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A push to market Ceres
Properties across from CHS ready for commercial
Vacant parcels east of Highway 99 and west of Ceres High School are being marketed for Highway Commercial development. This is one acre next to the Lazy Wheel Mobile Home Park which is to undergo the process of being closed down starting in August. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Ceres Chamber of Commerce president Renee Ledbetter is always on the hunt for new ways to promote Ceres, such as creating new events for the community. It's an ideal fit with her career as a real estate agent seeking to promote development of new businesses here.

Currently Ledbetter is marketing two promising commercial areas for development - the vacant triangle shaped lot between Ceres High School and Highway 99; and a strip of land along Hatch Road in front of River Oaks Golf Course.
"We are marketing it, reaching out to companies across the country looking to expand," said Ledbetter of the property near the freeway.

One offer was recently rejected by Southern California owner Anthony Nowaid as too low, said Ledbetter.

Ledbetter is only marketing the 1.2-acre "triangle" piece directly across from CHS, which is owned by Nowaid. He also owns land to the west which is not being marketed currently. A one-acre parcel adjacent to the existing trailer park is owned by a different owner and being marketed by Gil's Commercial Real Estate.

"There's a couple of options," said Ledbetter of the triangle piece. "We can go with a single tenant, like a fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru, which would be ideal because there is enough room. The other option is to do a 7,000-square-foot building with multiple tenants, possibly a restaurant or coffee house and then maybe two other retail stores."

A tentative design is on the drawing board for a site plan, she added.

Ledbetter would like to see a new business not already here. She said In-N-Out Burger is probably not interested in the triangle piece because the chain is interested in the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center being designed for the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads.

"We're really trying to market to companies that we don't have here."

Ledbetter said she is using the Retail Lease Track program which allows her office to identify which companies are seeking to expand and the criteria used in determining where to locate. Demographics and location are huge factors.

"We're about 50,000 in our population - close to - so we would key that in and it would identify businesses that are looking for that specific demographic."

Ledbetter said it would be fantastic if Ceres could snag one of the first Cracker Barrel restaurants as the chain expands into the California market. Stores are proposed for Rocklin and Victorville. The chain decided to not locate in Fresno after signing a lease near Highway 99 and Herndon Avenue.

"It would be fantastic if Ceres got a great restaurant like that," said Ledbetter. "Ceres is perfect for a lot of things; it's just a matter of convincing people that this is the place to be and there's so many exciting things happening in our community that people need to start getting excited about."

She noted that the renovation of Fourth Street in downtown will be completed next month and mentioned the coming of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train station to downtown. Ledbetter also expressed hopes in the development of Mitchell Ranch bringing a new Walmart Supercenter to Ceres and plans for a new Service Road interchange.

"I know some people don't want to see us grow but it's inevitable - and it's necessary. We have to."

A year ago the Ceres City Council voted unanimously to "clean up" the hodge-podge of zoning on the 17 parcels in front of the high school to pave the way for uses to complement highway travelers. Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said the parcels, now zoned Highway Commercial (H-C), are ideal for restaurants, shops, gas stations and hotels. The city initiated the zoning clean-up that occurred after the land was diced up by new roads prompted by the Whitmore/Highway 99 interchange.

One of the 17 parcels is currently occupied by Lazy Wheels Mobile Home Park, which is scheduled to be shut down and cleared. Nowaid owns that property as well. On Aug. 5, 2013 the Ceres Planning Commission approved a Notice of Nonconformance which sunsets the park's use in August 2018. That means Nowaid must evict the tenants of approximately 26 trailers and clear the site. The park has been in existence for 67 years.

Ledbetter has been signed on to develop the land in front of River Oaks Golf Course along Hatch Road.

"I would like to see - and the way that we'd like to market it - is to have a nice shopping retail strip there that could include, maybe a nice restaurant with outdoor eating facing the golf course. I've had interest from a cigar lounge that wants to come to Ceres but we haven't found a location for them. So there's potential there ... if we can find the right person that has the vision to do that."

Ledbetter continues to represent the Leer Building project which has not come to fruition. She said proponent Bill Leer has invested in a shopping center project in another community "and so this has just been on the back burner. I am still actively marketing it but it's just a matter of finding someone to come here and develop it if he's not going to."