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Arena owner roping up block parcels to hogtie blight, crime
Shane Parson snatching up houses between Fifth and Sixth Streets
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Shane Parson, owner of Diamond Bar Arena, Ceres Chamber of Commerce official and barrel racing association owner, stands in front of one of the many properties he rents to help clean up downtown Ceres. The house formerly housed drug addicts. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Shane Parson is on a mission: To clean up an historic block in downtown Ceres of its eyesores and troublemakers one parcel at a time. Before he started snatching up properties surrounding Ceres’ first home a year and a half ago, the block was populated with drug dealers, “tweakers” and unsavory tenants who stole from neighbors. Parents who took their children to Walter White School the neighboring block over over were fearful of the shady characters milling around. Police spent a lot of time arresting criminals harbored in the shadow of the Ceres water tower on the block between Fifth and Sixth streets and between North and Lawrence streets. One by one, Parson, past chairman of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, has poured money into properties, cleaning them up and replacing bad tenants with good ones. The area is showing marked improvement. “There’s all new people living in these houses,” reported Parson. “The reception from the neighbors is outstanding. We also started a Neighborhood Watch.” He said he is driven by giving people a second chance as he gives the block a second chance. “I see opportunity,” said Parson, 55, who rebuilt his life after he became clean and sober from drug abuse 16 years ago. “I purchased my first homes on Fifth Street and I realize I had drug people living in them.” Parson’s quest has sparked curiosity in the community. City officials have applauded Parson’s actions, especially since the Ceres has lost redevelopment funds in a state budget grab. “He is a responsible citizen and leading the way,” said Bryan Briggs, the city’s Community Development director, of Parson. “In our world, when a private citizen makes an investment in his own property, we see that other property owners tend to take notice and in this case say ‘if Shane can do that then maybe I can do more for my property.’ Economic development professionals like to see fellows like Shane because it makes our job easier.” Ceres Police Lt. Brent Smith feels Parson is making a dent in downtown crime, where it was common for some of tenants to break into neighboring homes when residents were away at work to steal items to support their drug habit. “It’s all who you rent to and the people who were living in a couple of the residences were dealing drugs,” said Smith. “We’ll work with whoever in the city is a landlord who wants to try to keep their places in good order.” While Parson hopes to make money on his real estate investments – made possible by his prosperity as owner of Diamond Bar Arena and a Turlock area almond processing plant – he often spends money that benefits others but not necessarily himself. On Sixth Street, Parson points to one of three houses he now owns. The people living there were down and out, so he financed a car for them and gave them a job so they could live in the house and pay him rent. “All I have to do now is give back. I’ve been pretty blessed. Financially I have been blessed and a lot of people have helped me.” Parson routinely offers help with property care on properties he doesn’t own in an attempt to keep the block looking well manicured. He occasionally picks up abandoned couches and hauls them off. There are limits to how much control he has on block, though. After dispatching his arena employees to a Sixth Street residence to mow the lawn for a second time, they were turned away because the daytime sleeping occupant didn’t want to be disturbed. The yard was deep in grass last week. Parson leases a city-owned house next south of the Daniel Whitmore Home to shelter high school students in the Project Yes program who were “virtually homeless.” One Ceres High School student he assisted was on her own because her parents were deported to Mexico. Parson arranged for Beth Hunt to become the girl’s guardian and he looked after her other needs, even buying her a prom dress and sending her to Disneyland on her senior trip. The girl has since graduated and is now serving in the military. In cases where he can’t find a willing seller of a property he wants, Parson has taken a different tact to control those who live on the block. On a stroll down Fifth Street, Parson stopped in front of a house south of the historic Daniel Whitmore House, pointed at it and said, “I pay a monthly lease on this house right now just to keep squatters out. I don’t want squatters in my neighborhood.” Parson played a significant role in the clean-up of what was inarguably the worst eyesore on the block – two two-story duplex buildings at the southeast corner of Fifth and North streets. Parson was unable to purchase the property but is leasing them to have control over the tenants. They will be refurbished with the purpose of converting one into the Ceres site of the Children’s Crisis Center of Stanislaus County. Parson is paying rent until the center is up and running later this year. Parson also helped arrange for the removal of three and a half tons of trash out of the unit and yard. “The people at the school were getting so many complaints from parents about these apartments,” said Parson. “The parents were scared for their kids. Those apartments were bad, terrible.” Briggs is happy to see the development. He calls it an example of “addition by subtraction” when Parson “got rid of those drug addicts that were living there.” Briggs predicted that the residents “who live down there are going to feel much more comfortable and it’s certainly going to be more attractive.” Neighbors are already feeling comfortable. Sally Lara, who lives on the west side of Fifth Street and who owns nearby Alfonso’s Mexican Bar & Grill, said the vagrancy in the area has lessened. “Isn’t that fabulous that somebody has taken an interest to the downtown area and all the problems it has brought?” said Lara. “I think it’s great and hope it continues.” Lara said there are fewer instances of her being awakened by her dogs barking at 2 a.m. because people are gathered in the streets. “I don’t know where they’ve gone but I’m happy they’re gone.” Parson has set up at four of his own family members in units on the block and has extended help to others. To give families in the area some green space to enjoy, Parson approached the city about cleaning up the vacant lot owned by the now defunct Ceres Redevelopment Agency at the southeast corner of Lawrence and Fifth streets. Parson paid for a fence around the lot and plans to add grass and add picnic tables. “It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been able to buy enough places that I can self-finance my operation,” noted Parson, pointing at a house he bought for $55,000 and rents for $750 per month. Parson’s effort is paying off in other areas on the block. Dirk Wyatt bought one property, evicted less-than-desirable tenants, put on a new roof and refurbished the house and added nice front-yard landscaping. The house is near a house that Parson bought and refurbished after squatters stripped away the air conditioning unit, wiring and plumbing. Parson is also attempting to buy the small commercial building on Lawrence Street where he leases space for his own business, Embroidery Plus, a business that sells personalized sports team jerseys and award trophies. He started the business compliments his the barrel racing association which dispenses numerous engraved awards and trophies. The Los Banos native is also owner and publisher of West Coast Horsemen, a monthly magazine distributed through feed and tack stores and ranches in California and Nevada. He also is publisher of Horsemen News, the Paint Horse News and Pacific Quarter Horse Journal. Parson traces his Chamber involvement to an effort to promote his arena, which boasts the largest barrel racing competitions west of the Mississippi River. “We put on big stuff. I got involved in the Chamber because nobody knows the scope of my events. We had to buy another 10 acres next to me so that I’ll have parking. That’s what I need during my events.”