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Crafting a future for downtown Ceres is a big issue with long lasting results, but there has been little input from the public. The 30 who have showed up at two community workshops to plan the future of downtown have been passionate. City officials are hoping to see more of that passion and enthusiasm at one more scoping meeting taking place next week.

"We won't say it's been a disappointment but we could do better," said Bryan Briggs, the city's economic development manager.

Input has mostly come from those who own land or businesses in the downtown core. Briggs said the 30 have "given great input" and called the discussion "passionate." But he's hoping that a city of 42,000 can generate more interest from its citizenry.

"It's important that we have the community fully invested in this project," said Briggs.

There is one more downtown scoping meeting set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 11. The meeting will be held at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building, corner of Ninth and Lawrence.

"We're asking the community to tell us what they want to see in downtown," said Briggs. "The city is willing to listen."

The workshops are key to an ambitious project to develop a Downtown Ceres Specific Plan. Briggs said the plan will determine how downtown Ceres will develop and look in the future. The specific plan will not be unlike the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan that determines what gets built where, and how the buildings will look.

"Variety translates to interest," said Briggs. "We don't want everything to be the same."

Not all have agreed on the ideas presented. Nor have all ideas been expressed.

What there seems to be a consensus over is that downtown Ceres could use more significant streetscape furniture. And that Fourth Street should be the centerpiece of downtown.

Briggs seems cheery over a more vibrant downtown economy and sees two projects that are boosting enthusiasm for downtown. The first is construction of the $6.9 million Community Center that will bring more people into downtown. The second is a proposed Victorian Village senior apartments. The $5.6 million apartment project proposed by Cary Pope at the northeast corner of Fifth and North streets will introduce 30 units of affordable living for seniors. The project will blend nicely with the restored Clinton Whitmore Mansion. It's that concept of putting a higher density of population in the downtown area, that will create a downtown with more businesses.

"If the community says we want shops downtown, we need to get more shoppers living in downtown," said Briggs.

Every resident who will be living at Victorian Village will be a shopper, Briggs noted. "They can walk down the a corner coffee shop. Can they do that now? No. So we need a plan to get from here to there."

One plan may be to craft different land use alternatives that allow for two- or three-story buildings with commercial on the first floor and residential above. Examples of this type of use are common in Bay Area communities like Fremont and Pleasanton.

Briggs said that many cities have successfully converted their downtowns to become gem shopping districts, including Turlock and Redwood City. One of the greatest things going for downtown Ceres is its visibility to Highway 99. The downtown plan will likely seek to capitalize on that accessibility by changing land uses that will draw people to take the offramp. Ideas have included placing one-of-a-kind restaurants within view of the tens of thousands who daily drive through Ceres on the freeway.

In an attempt to have greater say how downtown will develop, the Ceres Redevelopment Agency recently began investing in downtown Ceres. Two recent land purchases include a corner lot near Alfonso's Mexican Bar and Grill at Fifth and Lawrence and a vacant lot opposite Wells Fargo Bank on Fourth Street.

"California is in a down cycle now but in five years it should be improved. The redevelopment agency will have something of value and have control what goes on that property."

With the help of consultants Design, Community & Environment (DC&E), city officials will be digesting public input to craft three alternative plans for downtown. The ideas will be chewed over at a July 2 joint meeting of the Ceres City Council and Ceres Planning Commission. Briggs believes that a preferred alternative will be chosen by summer's end with an eight- to nine-month environmental review.

The final document will be approved by late spring 2009.