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Downtown: Are malcontents trying to force people to go to Orchard Valley?
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Two pivotal projects that could end up making or breaking Central Manteca’s future are expected to break ground in the coming months.

They are the expansion of Library Park that will include a 75-sesat amphitheatre and a new gazebo among the improvements as well as the transit station at Moffat Boulevard and South Main Street.

Both - if utilized right - could generate a steady flow of people into central Manteca.

With all due respect to those who believe the city’s efforts to bring downtown into the realities of 21st century retail districts are a joke, keep in mind it is shifting consumer preferences and the failure of merchants to meet them that caused everything that has slowly driven traditional retailers such as New Deal Market, McMahon’s Department Store, Mars Department Store and others out of business.

You could never replicate the experiences of a large shopping center with acres of parking without essentially leveling downtown and starting over. Nor can you blame Wal-Mart’s opening in 1991 as the beginning of the end for downtown. Although the two department stores and other clothing stores had good service they weren’t carrying the styles preferred by a changing population. Most people in Manteca were shopping out of town for clothes.

And whether you want to believe it, the $3.1 million spent on streetscape upgrades from everything from vintage street lights and trellises to the much maligned bulb-outs have improved the appeal of downtown.

Just ask out-of-town folks who move into Del Webb at Woodbridge. They are charmed by the looks of downtown. The problem, of course, is giving them a reason to go downtown instead of just driving past it.

The city and other organizations have tired. The Pumpkin Fair and April street fair aren’t exactly welcome downtown with open arms. Tie-ins with downtown businesses to the weekly farmers market as is happening successfully in Ripon isn’t the case in Manteca.

The Pumpkin Fair and Crossroads Street Fair would probably be better off going to The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley as would the farmers market.

Yes, many have given it the old college try. Coffee shops have opened and closed. Boutique shops have struggled with a few making it and most closing.

The recession has been brutal but let’s be honest. It was that way when everyone was spending money like there was no tomorrow.

You’ve got to give people a reason to go downtoiwn. And once you get them there it is up to businesses to snag them.

Somehow tattoo parlors, cigarette shops, and businesses closed in the evenings and on weekends just don’t do the trick.

Want to know the right way to do things? Look at Manteca Bedquarters. They’re competitive, just ask that chain mattress company out at Stadium Retail Center. They’re open seven days. And they are positive. The same goes for Kelley Brothers. They saw a huge opportunity when Bass Pro Shops opened. They placed flyers on thousands of vehicles and had one of their best weekends ever.

It is about marketing and luring people.

That is where the expanded Library Park comes in as well as the transit station.

Imagine having weekly events in the gazebo such as high school jazz band concerts, student art shows, and such. There has to be a way to get people to fall in love again with downtown year round. That will attract the entrepreneurs who will fill buildings as they have in Pleasanton, Livermore, and Lodi with restaurants and stores that serve the new realities of prosperous downtowns in medium-sized cities.

The transit station offers a real plus assuming the plans can be tweaked. Most of the 3.1 acres is set aside for parking. The city won’t need that much parking for transit for years. Imagine what could be done in the portion closest to South Main Street and Moffat Boulevard was transformed into a “temporary” plaza for 10 to 15 years which should be enough time to help downtown rebound.

The city could create a gathering spot for the farmers market and other events. True it is on top of the tracks but so is Library Park.

All you would have to do is plant a solid wall of fast-growing California pepper trees that Caltrans uses because they are evergreen and baffle noise significantly as well as serve as an effective visual screen.

The site is ideal because Main Street carries much of the traffic that just passes through downtown.

Of course, we could all just listen to a handful of people who want to trash everything the city tries and dedicate their lives to not making things work.

Then that way The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley with its “downtown feeling” complete with pleasantries such as water features and quaint design and a growing list of community-style events can become the de facto heart of Manteca.