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Council orders plan to improve downtown
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Citing the need for a plan that will become reality and not become a "shelf document," city leadership ordered a $350,000 development plan Monday night to turn downtown Ceres into a destination spot.

The Berkeley firm of Design, Community & Environment (DC&E) was hired to develop the vision as well as an implementation strategy to tap into the potential of downtown Ceres.

The firm will conduct a comprehensive analysis of existing and potential markets for retail, office and residential, as well as traffic, parking and infrastructure issues.

As part of the process, there will be extensive public participation through workshops, a Downtown Advisory Committee made up of downtown stakeholders, property and business owner meetings and a public outreach campaign.

The contract is being funded by the Ceres Redevelopment Agency and not through the general fund.

The quest to revitalize downtown Ceres dates back more than 20 years. The city developed design guidelines and established a Downtown Revitalization Area Board but private interest was so sparse that the panel had trouble drawings board members. Nor has much private money been invested into downtown. The CRA did install a number of improvements, such as roundabouts and old fashioned street lamps but the action was seen as the first step.

City officials are hoping that the construction of the Ceres Community Center south of Magnolia and between Third and Fourth streets spurs greater interest in rehabilitating downtown.

The plan is expected to be delivered in 11 months.

City Manager Brad Kilger said the document will define a vision for downtown but noted "we want to ensure that it becomes reality and not just a shelf document."

Citizen Jerri Ottersbach said she is saddened to see the state of downtown but said it could be refurbished to become "the next Solvang." She suggested quaint eateries, gift shops and specialized stores.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa said he'd like downtown to resemble the coastal village of Capitola.

"There's been talk of revitalization for the past 20 years but I don't think we have seen a real effort," noted Mayor Anthony Cannella. He added that little will be accomplished without the involvement of property owners.

Councilman Chris Vierra said he likes how Visalia has turned its downtown into an asset.

Completion of a development plan will provide the City with a clear strategy, implementation plan and tools for revitalizing the area, improving and expanding housing opportunities and promoting economic development.