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Downtown plan sails
Imagine a destination downtown Ceres with a cineplex, professional and retail offices on the ground floor and residential units on the second floor. Include with that eateries drawing motorists off of Highway 99 and locals alike even after hours. Throw in more parking, an expanded civic center and more welcoming streetscapes and you have a picture of what city officials want downtown Ceres to be like in another two decades.

Plans to improve downtown Ceres over the next decades received approval from the Ceres Planning Commission in November. The commission approved the final environmental impact report and adopting the Downtown Specific Plan. It will receive its hearing before the Ceres City Council on Jan. 10.

The plan is a framework for development in downtown Ceres over the next 15 years and a tool for redevelopment activities in the region bounded by El Camino on the west, Whitmore Avenue on the north, Ninth Street to the east and Park Street to the south.

"It's a 15-year plan but with the economy the way it is it's probably going take longer," acknowledged Brian Briggs, the city of Ceres Redevelopment and Economic Development Manager. "The 15-year plan will probably take 20. We'll all have to cross our fingers and hope that our economy takes off."

Community leaders helped the city to formulate a vision for downtown Ceres at a number of workshops. Concepts for the future of downtown include:

• Developing Fourth Street as a "Main Street," with ground floor retail and residential units on above stories;

• Adding more office complexes in downtown;

• Bringing in an entertainment venue with a downtown parking structure that should be centrally located;

• Adding architectural gateway entries at Fourth and Whitmore and at Fourth and El Camino;

• A downtown replete with apartments or condominiums;

• Adding a offering of things to do after dark should be made available in downtown;

• Historical buildings and civic uses should be connected by pedestrian walkways;

To help make downtown more viable economically, the plan assumes an infusion of 495 more residential units and 1,678 corresponding downtown dwellers in the downtown area.

The city plan believes that an movie theater complex of between 8 to 11 screens would be a chief draw to downtown. Because downtown is covered with existing buildings, significant redevelopment via a wrecking ball would have to take place to accommodate such a structure. The most fitting location for a cineplex would be in the area bounded by Fourth Street, El Camino Avenue, Park Street, Sixth Street and Lawrence Street. The location is best because it would be seen from the freeway.

"Downtown businesses will benefit from spillover spending from local movie goers and those who come from nearby cities," the report reads.

Briggs said redevelopment efforts in the downtowns of Redwood City and Santa Cruz didn't take off until movie theaters were put into place.

Briggs said the private sector would have to become a partner since the CRA does not have eminent domain powers.

He said the city has been contacted by two theater operators about opening up a theater in Ceres city and that both felt "Ceres is an ideal location for a movie theater," said Briggs.

The plan outlines that Central Avenue and Second and Third streets will be an appropriate place for office uses offered in a mixed use format.

Briggs said the city would have to take a number of steps to get downtown ready for housing, including new sewer and water lines in downtown Ceres. Briggs said he is unsure when the infrastructure will be upgraded but will recommend that it be accomplished in phases. He said Riverbank tried to do all of its improvements all at one time and nearly shut down its downtown business trade. The city will also reconfigure parking, and develop some sites which it owns.

"As far as the city or agency is concerned, we're going to try to do our bits in first... prepare the area for the private sector to come on in. We'll get the infrastructure in place. and with the property owners in a agreement with the plan we feel that the private sector will take over."

In October 2007 the Ceres City Council ordered a $350,000 development plan to help turn downtown Ceres into a destination spot. The Berkeley firm of Design, Community & Environment (DC&E) was hired to develop the 20-year vision as well as an implementation strategy to tap into the potential of downtown Ceres. Weighing in on the future of downtown were merchants and residents.