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How about placing homeless motor court, truck parking, & food truck court at Orchard Valley?
Orchard Valley

Poag Development — despite California being in its longest economic expansion in 50 years and Manteca being consistently one of the top tier cities for growth in the state — refuses to do anything to fill empty space that they built in 2008 at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.

It’s not that they can’t fill the space, they won’t. Numerous concerns have tried over the years to lease space or open a dining venue on one of eight free-standing pads the city approved for that purpose —restaurants like Joe’s Crab Shop and Sierra Grill — but they’ve been given the brush off.

It is apparent Poag has no desire to complete their promise to develop a bustling 786,000-square-foot mixture of retail and dining. It’s kind of a shell game, in a way, as the losses from space they built but aren’t leasing are probably a nice write-off against profits at their other complexes across the country to reduce their taxes.

Usually this shouldn’t be anyone’s concern given it’s a private enterprise. In this case there is a little detail — the 35-year deal the city inked with the original developer Poag & McEwen — to split sales tax so they could land the retail whale known as Bass Pro Shops. That deal has benefited the city as well as the developer given 98 percent of the shoppers Bass Pro collects sales tax from are not Manteca residents. That means the city is raking in a good chunk of sales tax they would not have collected with a retailer that didn’t have a specialty niche that draws consumers from a 100-mile radius.

But there’s a problem, a big problem. The decision to upgrade the Union Road interchange that is now underway first and not the 120 Bypass interchanges at Airport Way and Main Street was predicated largely on the developers’ vision.

It is seriously doubtful that city council leaders a decade ago would have pushed forward with upgrading Union Road ahead of the Airport Way interchange if all Poag was going to do was sit on its hands and essentially develop and lease only half the center they agreed to build to get the sales tax split.

The last time the city tried to get the developer off the dime was when former City Manager Elena Reyes fired off a strongly worded letter that implied there were steps the city could and would take to get them to move forward. That never went anywhere because Reyes was put on ice shortly thereafter before the council and Reyes officially parted ways.

It is a blight of sort on Manteca’s front door having a center with large swaths of vacant space and undeveloped restaurant pads smack dab in the middle of the high profile 120 Bypass.

It is why the city should look seriously at playing the one-card they hold — the provision in the 35-year deal that “leases” them a large swath of the 1,700 plus parking spaces.

What is stopping the city from getting a more robust use of the spaces besides being tapped for park and ride commuters?

Why not explore possible options that could address other needs and wants in the city for the remaining 24 years of the contract?

The city could use some of the spaces to put in a food truck court.

Perhaps they could also use some of the parking spaces for free truck parking. Semi-trucks could park there instead of along city streets.

And while this may seem a bit wracked, the city could use part of the parking spaces they are leasing for a motor court for the homeless.

At first you’re thinking that is nuts. But if you look at the terms of the contract, consider state laws and court decisions, and the proliferation of people living in vehicles around Manteca, the idea has a good chance of being a twist on the park-and-ride provision.

The city could set aside spaces for a 100 vehicles used by homeless. They could park there to sleep from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.  The Manteca Police officers that work with the homeless can make sure they are dispersed by 8 a.m. each day or the city could allow prolonged parking for several days. They could even put portable toilets in place.

This may sound like sheer lunacy but it’s no more wracked than the developer investing money to build space they have repeatedly refused to lease including two restaurants willing to make significant investments to put in a first-class dining experience at the lake’s edge by the theater.

The city could address issues impacting neighborhoods and commercial areas around town plus make use of developed parking they have a 35-year lease on that apparently Poag has no intention of using for customer parking given their highly unorthodox way of trying to “fill” empty space that they haven’t received a penny for since it was completed 11 years ago.

A lot of people will say that a homeless motor court, truck parking, and a food truck court are hideous things to have at Manteca’s front door. But it is equally hideous for more than $28.4 million to have been committed to interchange work at Union Road ahead of Airport Way and Main Street as it is now clear that the developer didn’t exactly negotiate the contract with the city in good faith on the sales tax split.

How different would the deal have been if it was just Bass Pro and half a functioning center instead of the bustling 786,000-square-foot retail juggernaut vision that Poag & McEwen dangled in front of city leaders? And if council back in 2008 knew that what you see at Orchard Valley was the developer’a game plan you’d probably be seeing the Airport Way interchange being upgraded today instead of the one at Union Road.

At one point the developer said they were selling the center and put out press releases to that effect but then took it off the market after getting at least one legitimate offer. The decision to take it off the market came after developers that keep their  word — Mike Atherton and Bill Filios— floated a vision next door for mixed use with apartments, retail and dining options for a Central Valley version of San Jose’s Santana Row.  Poag supposedly is looking at that type of development to complete the center but has made little progress besides talk. Meanwhile Atherton, who dropped the mixed use approach for neighboring land on the correct assumption two such projects couldn’t prosper side by side, is going ahead with more than 450 plus apartments. Meanwhile space at Orchard Valley instead of collecting rent is collecting dust.

The time has come for the council to get legal advice on what they can do to better utilize the parking spaces they “lease”.

The best combo would be truck parking on perimeter spaces from the Hampton Inn along Atherton Drive to Union Road and then to the 120 Bypass. Then near the corner of the parking lot near Union Road and Atherton Drive they could carve out space for a homeless motor court that would be shielded from the streets by parked trucks. A food truck court could go near the theater and Bass Pro or even along the 120 Bypass frontage.

I’m sure a lawyer could work their magic to make any of those happen under the deal the city signed since all three ideas involve vehicles that are being parked.

If Poag doesn’t want to swing the bat and just watch balls pass by Manteca’s leaders need to do whatever they can to force the developer play ball. The focus needs to be on what the city can leverage with the 35-year parking lease.

It sound crazy but no more crazy than what Poag is doing.