Imagine Manteca with a major draw that makes downtown the hub for culture, dining and entertainment.
The complex’s ground floor features space for restaurants, a coffee gathering spot, retail, an expansive commons or lobby area with static art displays that are switched every month, the first floor of a state-of-the-art learning center, and a 150-seat auditorium/theatre.
On floors above of the structure that could be anywhere from four to six stories or more is office space for all sorts of purposes plus various meeting/conference rooms.
The name of the building — Manteca City Hall.
It is a somewhat embellished vision of what Councilman Gary Singh sees as the logical and best course for Manteca to take to address city hall space needs, library/cultural needs and desires, as well as develop leasable and desirable space needed to leverage a downtown renaissance.
It sounds pie-in-the-sky but it is in alignment with out-of-the-box thinking firmly planted in economic reality that allowed Manteca to convert a shuttered sugar beet refinery into a 362-acre mixed use development that created 2,000 jobs, snared the likes of Bass Pro Shops and Great Wolf Resort as well brought the Big League Dreams concept to town.
Manteca has a lot of needs and a lot of wants — especially given we are now a city on the verge of 100,000 residents heading for 150,000 in the next 20 to 30 years — that will cost a lot of money. There is also a need to find a way to keep Manteca joined together as one community instead of one that is simply a bunch of old and new neighborhoods cobbled together. That includes making sure the city doesn’t become balkanized as residential, retail, and entertainment venues continue to develop south of the 120 Bypass.
The best way to make sure Manteca grows as one is to develop a true city center — complete with commuter rail service at its doorstep when Altamont Corridor express service starts in 2023 — using and expanding the downtown footprint that after 102 years is still at the physical heart of the city.
Manteca is behind the curve when it comes to amenities. Few, if anyone, will debate that point. The problem is paying for them.
Manteca has $13 million in fees collected from growth that can only be used for government facilities. According to staff, the current growth rate will continue to add millions more each year to the fund. That sounds like a lot of money but it really isn’t.
It is why Singh sees a private-public partnership such as the city hall providing space that can be leased until such time the city grows into it over the decades. Singh believes the $13 million plus future growth fees that are collected could leverage private investment as well as lease income to make such a project plausible.
Singh sees the library and city hall in one location playing off each other as well as creating synergy to address other community deficiencies.
As an example, he sees meeting rooms created for use by staff, library programs, and the community. The council chambers could be designed to do double duty. As it is now works, the chambers are used once or twice a week on average for perhaps 8 hours or so at most. The rest of the time it sits empty.
Singh believes a new city hall could have council chambers that can seat 150 or so. Its design could accommodate other uses such as concerts, lectures, seminars, and even theatrical presentations.
It would provide a small community auditorium/performing arts venue. Even if at some point in the future the city builds a free-standing performing arts center the facility could still be used for that purpose given the cultural needs and desires of a city of 150,000 is much more significant than that of a city of 85,000.
Singh believes a modern library that embraces 21st century needs is essential for a community.
Combining city hall with the library and ground floor space for restaurants and such Singh believes you will be creating a magnet for the community that will result in the foot traffic that is essential to lure additional private sector investment critical to change the course of downtown.
Singh’s location for his envisioned city hall would involve a combination of Library Park, the library, Wilson Park, the tennis courts, the old Boy Scout Hut, and perhaps some street closures on Manteca Avenue and possibly even involve buying nearby property such as the old city hall.
He believes a new police station should be built at the existing Civic Center.
As for parking, he points to the city lot behind the south side of the 200 block of West Yosemite Avenue and the possible conversion of the Center Street tennis courts and adjoining Boy Scout Hut.
Whether Singh’s vision can garner additional votes on the council to make it a reality is a good question.
At the very least Singh’s objective is to make sure that every reasonable and possible option is explored not just as a freestanding issue but how they could possibly be solved intermingling with other pressing needs and wants.
He believes the city’s future and taxpayers are shortchanged if elected leaders stay wedded to longtime perceptions and standard solutions.
Manteca isn’t flushed with cash.
There are a lot of pressing demands for what resources the city has.
Downtown — the heart of the city — needs to be taken to the next level to keep Manteca cohesive as a community as it grows past the 100,000 population mark.
Manteca needs to strengthen the old so the new can be stronger as well.
The city needs more city hall space, the library is outdated and undersized, what facilities the police work with are borderline criminal in terms of their inadequacies, and downtown desperately needs investment in more space to attract restaurants and specialized retail.
His solution rips a page of sorts from Mayor Ben Cantu’s playbook as well as the desire of the rest of the council to be frugal with tax dollars.
Singh’s bottom line is pursuing solutions that maximize the return of taxpayer dollars while at the same time moving Manteca forward.