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Council likes initial design for downtown
This is one possible look for Fourth Street in downtown Ceres. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The two existing Fourth Street roundabouts will be removed, trees will be planted in spaces now occupied by parking stalls and artistically designed arches will define the two main entrances into the downtown Ceres district. Those are among the $2 million worth of improvements for downtown which city officials hope will entice private investment into Ceres' oldest shopping district.

Agreeing that downtown needs some pizazz, members of the City Council expressed hopes Monday evening that their preliminary design does the trick.

"I think that the plan is something very much needed for downtown," said Mayor Chris Vierra. "As I look at all the other communities in Stanislaus County, they've put some significant investment in their downtown and I think for us to attract new businesses and also to make it something that's better for the existing businesses that area down there, I think it's important that we spruce up or do some things that really helps our downtown."

Vierra said that he has been in talks with business people who are considering opening businesses in Ceres who are "very excited to know we are looking to invest in the downtown area."

Councilman Ken Lane said the city has been working for years on revitalizing downtown and while it's important to keep the "hometown feel," it's a necessary move.

City Manager Toby Wells said the city wants to create a "very unique and special environment that's different" for downtown, adding that palm trees are unique from any other downtown in the area. The idea of moving trees out into the street would enable 10-foot-wide sidewalks to be utilized for outdoor café dining or latte drinking. He said trees - possibly palm trees - would be planted nine feet out from the existing curb. He said Silva Cells will be installed underneath the permeable asphalt to allow the trees to receive enough water to sustain them.

Vierra believed that renaming Fourth Street as Main Street would be a way of rebranding the busiest street of downtown.

"I don't know how the current business owners would feel about that but if we don't lose the identity of Fourth Street but we also begin referring to this as Main Street, I think there's some significant benefits for that," said Mayor Vierra.

Wells said the city would query the merchants but also noted the city needs to think about how the renaming would affect Fourth Street north of Ceres High School. Businesses, he said, will also help the city make some "critical decisions" such as construction timeline to minimize impact. The public will also help the city define some details they want to see in the plan.

The transformation of downtown is expected to take a decade or longer, said Wells, based on his experiences in helping to renovate new downtowns for Livermore and Turlock.

"It doesn't happen overnight, but we're really setting a foundation of infrastructure for that growth and that potential," said Wells.

The city hopes to be 50 percent complete in the design phase by September and have the entire design completed by January. Construction would start the day after the 2017 Street Faire. The goal is to have everything finished by the end of 2017.

The concept calls for Fourth Street to be striped so that bikes and cars share the same thoroughfare, similar to what one sees in beach communities, Wells said. Expect Fourth Street to become narrower to slow traffic.

Wells said downtown will never change unless private parties invest in downtown for new buildings or renovation of old ones and bringing new businesses and new life. Wells said several properties in downtown changed hands with new eyes on downtown.

Rather than ship the downtown clock to another location, like Whitmore Park, Councilwoman Linda Ryno suggested leaving it somewhere on the Fourth Street streetscape.

The plan has its detractors. Leonard Shepherd said he is concerned that the design takes out too much street parking. He said while he would like to see a mini-mart, and family style restaurant or steak house in downtown that doesn't close up early like other downtown businesses, he fears the loss of parking will affect the older population who can't walk well to the drug store.

"I like to have my car close because my feet don't do too well," Shepherd, 73, told the council.

The Ceres Drug Store and Wells Fargo Bank share a common parking lot. The city plans on having the public utilize the city-owned lot at the northwest corner of Fourth and North streets.

Downtown businessman Shane Parson said while parking could be an issue, he likes the city's plans. He said he is trying to get a new restaurant to open in the former Post Office building on the east side of Fourth Street.

"I'm willing to work with them on a reduced rate until this is done," said Parson.

The $2 million to $2.5 million the city expects to spend on the project will come from proceeds of the bonds sold by the now defunct Ceres Redevelopment Agency in addition to other pots of money set aside for infrastructure.