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Manteca: The little city that couldnt
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Can Manteca deliver on just one water play attraction?
For whatever reason Great Wolf may be in the wind. The new indoor water park player that McWhinney — the developer Manteca is working with to provide the anchor needed to make the ambitious family entertainment zone more than a pie-in-the-sky dream — is apparently not to the commitment stage.
And to top it off, the one water play feature the Manteca City Council has control over — the interactive play feature at Library Park — hasn’t used a drop of water for more than three years.
The Library Park water play feature is a barometer of sorts of the effectiveness and commitment of city leaders to not just day-to-day amenities that go beyond the six basics — police, fire, garbage collection, sewer, water, and streets — but the ability to stay committed to any vision for downtown Manteca.
Yes, the drought silenced the $400,000 water play feature. It wasn’t until last year, though, that interactive water play features in nearby communities such as Lathrop and Ripon went dry. That’s because they had the foresight not to do the ones they installed — before Manteca’s by the way — on the cheap. They installed water recycling systems unlike Manteca’s leaders who took a caviler attitude toward water waste long before the drought.
The water play features in Ripon and Lathrop will likely come on again this year. That’s because they don’t wantonly waste water and therefore won’t violate the coming state mandate to ban all water features that don’t recirculate water.
The real question Manteca residents need to ask is how many 100-degree plus summers will the only option city youngsters have at Library Park is frying eggs on the interactive water play feature?
Yes, it’s going to take money to retrofit the play feature to recirculate water. But here’s the $200,000 plus question: Why did the city find the money to hire a consultant to devise a parks and recreation master plan essentially based on the existing general plan when they couldn’t find the money to make sure existing recreation amenities such as the water play feature actually could be used?
Could it be that the city power structure — elected or otherwise — never noticed how heavily the water play feature was used on warm/hot weekends in the spring, summer and early fall or how moms with young kids would venture there during weekdays?
And let’s not forget what makes the water play feature even more damning when it comes to the political will of elected leaders. It is a major component of the existing vision for downtown the city developed and embraced that they started putting in place 14 years ago. That includes expanding and a major makeover of Library Park, the Tidewater-style street lights and traffic signals, the transit station, and other touches that cost in excess of $15 million.
Yes, the homeless are a drag on downtown and so are those absentee landlords treating their property as cash cows But the real problem with downtown is the lack of commitment by the city and not the property owners with a conscious or the merchants struggling to keep the heart of Manteca vibrant.
Every downtown — even Livermore — has homeless issues and questionable landlords. What they don’t have is a city government that abandons ship every time the vision for their downtown hits rough economic or political seas.
The water play feature that is essentially nonfunctional after just eight years is just one example.
There was a plan in place to extend the Tidewater-style street lights to other downtown streets but that went to the wayside. Blame the loss of redevelopment agency money all you want but the city dropped the ball long before Gov. Brown used the state’s inability to curtail spending to commandeer RDA taxes.
The city commits the time of an economic development specialist to new endeavors — that are much easier to tackle — and high profile disruptions such as businesses that were displaced by the Highway 99/Lathrop Road interchange work but not downtown.
Manteca made a sizeable investment into bringing the El Rey Theatre back to life as Kelley Brothers Brewing Co. & Brick Oven Restaurant. They provided $220,000 in RDA money toward a $1.1 million plus deal that included the tenant’s money and loans as well as concessions from the property owner to make it work. The city would forgive the $220,000 loan if the brewery/restaurant reached certain sakes tax and employment bench marks. The city essentially got paid back in 10.5 years. The brewery closed a year later as a victim of the Great Recession.
The city could easily offer to do the same thing for another operator now that the economy has improved. It could be modeled after the Costco deal that essentially forgives sales tax until the city’s “investment” is reached.
The brewery was a major draw for downtown. It can be argued getting it up and running again would do much more for downtown than some flim flam pontificating consultant churning out pages of gobbledygook on obvious things that have to be done.
The water play feature and the city’s inability to stay the course with downtown must be made a major issue in the campaign leading up to the November council election.
If not, downtown will be doomed to remain in purgatory and Manteca’s youth left with nothing more than their imagination to keep cool and frolic in when they visit Library Park on a 100-degree day.