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Will Mantecas leaders keep their promise?
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A waterpark resort deal — with upwards of $15 million in municipal funds using primarily redevelopment agency bond proceeds for a variety of related infrastructure projects — would be an economic boon. That’s the entire reason elected leaders have pursued it.
They are in grave danger, however, of developing myopic vision given instinct would tell you after seven years and counting plus money in the ground it would be politically wise to produce tangible results sometime this century.
A resort would be a key element to grow Manteca’s economy in a changing world. That said, for most Manteca residents it is more in the category of a bauble. It would be something nice and shiny to have but not much more.
But ask residents about their desire — and need — for more old-fashioned brick and mortar stores as well as dining spots, and most would put that ahead of closing a deal on a 500-room hotel.
It is against that backdrop that the City Council has a no-brainer decision coming up.
They are going to prioritize three major road projects. The projects that all have significant time and money invested are — building the McKinley/120 Bypass interchange, completing the missing gap on Atherton Drive between Union Road and Airport Way, and upgrading the Union Road/120 Bypass interchange.
If you had to select the top priority based on just four concerns — what improves traffic flow the most now and in the near future, what has the ability to trigger short term and medium range economic development, what could bring in concerns that appeal more to existing Manteca residents, and what fulfills a promise that has repeatedly been made and then repeatedly ignored — the obvious runaway choice is completing the Atherton Drive gap first.
That’s not to downgrade the importance of the two interchange projects, but let’s be pragmatic and practical.
The city doesn’t need the McKinley interchange in order to snare a 500-room resort with a 75,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, and a 30,000-square-foot conference center. They do need it if whatever resort they land wants to mega-size. If a resort operator wants 750 or 950 rooms built at once and quadruple the attractions or even to expand in a future phase, McKinley can go as the No. 2 project. The odds are even if a waterpark project broke ground in June of 2018 with the clear intent it would be larger, by the time the additional planning work is addressed construction could still start on the interchange and have it up and running even if it takes a back seat to Atherton Drive.
The Union Road diverging diamond interchange project is cost effective, innovative, and sexy. That said operational issues aren’t pressing in terms of traffic. This was put ahead of upgrading the Main Street interchange due to the promise of Orchard Valley generating much more traffic than it does now. Given a shopping complex setting attracts smaller and more specialty stores putting Union Road as No. 3 on the list won’t put Manteca out of the race for freestanding big box, medium box and small box entities that the city could snag due to growth and improving demographics only in Manteca but within five miles of the midpoint of the 120 Bypass namely River Islands and the rest of Lathrop.
Sixty percent of the city’s population is expected to be south of the 120 Bypass within 20 years. Already there is a sizeable chunk of it located there. That said, there is no major east-west arterial going from one end of south Manteca to the other.
Back before development started, Woodward Avenue was that east-west road. The decision to go with Atherton Drive changed that. It also led to the wise rethinking of Woodward Avenue west of Main Street to convert it into a wide two-lane collector street with a tree-lined median. That — along with more frequent stop signs and roundabouts — makes it a milk run collector street and not a four-lane thoroughfare arterial.
The decision also took into account 72 longtime existing homes fronting Woodward. It is why new development was modified to have driveways onto Woodward Avenue instead of sound walls. Although this could be a subject of a dozen other columns about the lack of municipal consistency and follow through, the fact the city staff is toying with a developer’s request to do yet another flip-flop by nixing homes facing Woodward and going back to the Manteca canyon sound wall concept is enough to make you wonder whether the city can honor any road development commitments they make to the people who already live here.
Elected city leaders and staff alike have astutely noted over the years that the southern side of the 120 Bypass  — especially when the McKinley interchange is in place and Atherton Drive completed — is the most high profile and potentially most valuable four miles of freeway frontage in the growing 1.1 million San Joaquin-Stanislaus marketplace. It has large developable parcels and — when McKinley is in place — freeway access every mile for four miles of the five miles of frontage.
Big retailers are like distribution firms. They want the major infrastructure — roads and utility trunk lines such as sewer and water — accessible and already in place when they make a decision to locate on a parcel.
Last but not least, City Councils have set aside money in budgets for the Atherton Drive gap twice — and even have done the environmental work — after they made very public promises to a lot of concerned folks that already live here.