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Merchants engaged in downtown makeover
Rehab to start in May 2017
This is an artists rendering of how Fourth Street in downtown Ceres might look by the end of next year. Archways will make a bold statement at entrances into downtown, the old roundabouts will be removed and new trees likely palm trees will be introduced. - photo by Courtesy of the city of Ceres

City officials reached out to downtown merchants on Monday afternoon, Dec. 12 to receive feedback on an ambitious makeover of Fourth Street in downtown next summer.

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

"The project is on schedule and we do expect to be opening construction by the end of the Street Faire in May," said City Manager Toby Wells.

Economic Development Manager Steve Hallam said an open house was held at a storefront in downtown and drew about 11 business owners and five property owners.

"It was a chance for merchants and property owners to look at the improvement plans with Chad Kennedy, our engineer and Mr. (Daryl) Jordan," said Hallam. They asked questions, mostly about how the improvements would affect their businesses.

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. The city is hopeful that the new look will entice private investment into Ceres' oldest shopping district.

Mayor Chris Vierra said if the city expects downtown to become more robust, the city project is necessary to create excitement. 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."

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.

Businesses, said Wells, will 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.