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Interest picks up over future of downtown
Interest in making downtown Ceres a thriving place is picking up in merchant circles and one of the first tasks will be sprucing up the water tower that stands sentinel over downtown.

Redevelopment funds will be tapped for the water tower paint-over since the enhancement of downtown is one of the missions of the Ceres Redevelopment Agency.

There's an ulterior motive as well.

"We're looking for icons for the downtown that we can use for marketing in the future and that we can look to say that we're proud of this, this is something from our past that we'd like to appreciate in the future," said Brian Briggs, the city's Redevelopment and Economic Development Manager, .

The new paint job may incorporate service club logos in exchange for help in the project. Briggs said he's looking into costs and designs for the job.

"We believe that if it's repainted it will be an attractive icon for those driving by on Highway 99," said Briggs. "If you say Ceres, they go, 'oh yeah, the water tower.'"

Thanks to a push by the city of Ceres, more merchants are expressing a desire to get involved in an ambitious plan to make downtown a shining jewel from the diamond in the rough.

"I'm very energized by the fact that businesses are taking interest in the direction of downtown," said Briggs. "Businesses have expressed ideas on sprucing up the public space and also offering ideas on what types of businesses they'd like to see down there."

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. The plan should be released for public review next month.

Briggs decided to seek greater downtown merchant participation after Mayor Anthony Cannella suggested that he would be reluctant to invest in downtown if merchants showed no buy-in.

For years the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board (CDRAB) has existed but few merchants have shown interest in serving - that is until the city showed interest.

With the help of the city and the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, two new events have been introduced to downtown Ceres: the Farmer's Market and the Halloween Festival.

There's been talk among the downtown merchants to expand the downtown boundaries to include all businesses south of Whitmore Avenue. But the move will require City Council action since an assessment is levied on property owners to fund CDRAB activities. Ideas brainstormed by the group have included a downtown garden in vacant lots.

Some of the enthusiasm comes from two significant investments in the downtown area - that of the $6.4 million Ceres Community Center on Fourth Street and the new $1 million Turlock Irrigation District office building opposite Whitmore Park. The city's downtown master plan aims to continue adding more exciting projects over the next two decades, including high-density residential into the downtown area.

Brigg said the city needs to encourage others to build on the assets already in downtown. For example, he's noticed lots of folks visiting the TID building to pay their bills but noted there's no place to hang out once they're in downtown.

"We need to get a coffee shop or a restaurant whose willing to locate in (downtown)," said Briggs. "We need to enlist the resources we have."

He feels certain that a coffee shop or sandwich shop owner could be convinced that foot traffic created by TID or park activities such as Farmer's Market would result in profitable business.

"This is really the beginning of our concept. It doesn't matter how you get them down there as long as you get them there and then you find the right retail establishments where people walk in and buy goods and that's kind of how downtowns get revitalized."

Briggs said the city will contact a commercial broker to approach various managers to lure them to downtown Ceres.