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City cuts ribbon to new downtown
Ceres sign
City officials, Chamber of Commerce leaders, downtown business owners and residents gathered on Monday afternoon to celebrate the completion of the revitalization of Fourth Street as the downtown business core. The $3.1 million project was funded by redevelopment agency bonds. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

A completed Fourth Street makeover was celebrated with a Monday afternoon ribbon cutting beneath one of two new "CERES" entryway features attended by city, Chamber, business and community members.

The city has completed the $3.1 million project after downtown had been disrupted by construction since last May. Two blocks of Fourth Street have been completely revamped with brick pavers, new asphalt, new landscaping bulbs, architectural pillars and overhead Ceres entry features delineating the downtown shopping district. Improvements also included a new storm drainage and water system. The facelift project is intended to be a catalyst for downtown building owners to improve facades and to encourage new investments for new buildings.

"Well isn't this impressive?" asked Mayor Chris Vierra at the ribbon cutting just outside of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce office. "It's been many, many years in the making."

Downtown had been made over in the 1990s with roundabouts, stamped concrete intersections and a centerpiece clock but the improvements never really stimulated private investment. Mayor Vierra said when he got on the Ceres City Council in 2003 leaders started talking about renovating downtown again. Vierra said he was previously "a little disappointed" in seeing that Ceres' downtown "wasn't as good as some of the others in Stanislaus County." He called the new look of Fourth Street "long overdue" and said, "I truly believe this will help to foster economic development for downtown."

Mayor Vierra noted that downtown Ceres has what no other city has in the region - visibility to Highway 99. He said the makeover is a "step in the right direction" to capitalize on the close proximity to the freeway. He also urged Ceres residents to support the downtown merchants and noted others are on the way.

The renovation of downtown is prompting some merchants to consider facade improvements, said Steve Hallam, the city's Economic Development Manager. Downtown building owner Jim Delhart is on track to invest in the facades of several buildings he owns on Fourth Street. Ted Smernes of Ceres Drug said he has ordered new signage as well as a makeover of the interior ceiling and lighting.

Brenda Herbert, a representative of state Senator Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, spoke at the ribbon cutting.

"I know that he's very excited about the completion of this project as was his wife," said Herbert of Cannella. "We've talked about it over the holidays so on behalf of Senator Cannella, I just thank the city of Ceres for the beautification of downtown Ceres because this looks fabulous. Thank you, congratulations, great work and let's keep making Ceres beautiful."

Assemblyman Adam Gray's representative, Channce Condit, said the project looks great and commended the City Council for its "excellent leadership, great foresight and this is going to be a great step forward for the city of Ceres."

His brother, Couper Condit, represents Assemblyman Heath Flora and presented a certificate on his behalf. Condit also is a member of the Ceres Planning Commission.

The mayor said "hopefully in a few years" the city will be holding a ribbon cutting for the new ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) train station two blocks away.

"Someday vision yourself coming down, having dinner, shopping here, hopping on the train and going over to the Bay Area. I think it would be very, very nice for our city."

The new Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train with its downtown Ceres station should be a reality before 2023, said Virginia Madueno, a consultant with the ACEforward Initiative.

The ACE station will be constructed west of Highway 99 near the southbound onramp in downtown Ceres. Parking for 600 vehicles would be offered both west and east of the raised freeway. Negotiations are in the works to create a large parking lot west of 99 while diagonal parking will be offered along El Camino Avenue, from Central Avenue to the southern point of Whitmore Park. To create room for the parking stalls just west of Whitmore Park, a new concrete retaining wall needs to be constructed next to the freeway. Both walls would be painted as part of the station design. Pedestrians coming from east of the freeway will be able to access the train platform via the existing overpass structure.

Natalie Mercado, who moved her Farmers Insurance agency office from Fifth Street to Fourth Street, last year, said the improvements are beautiful.

"I think we bring in a lot of clientele. I have 2,100 people I service," said Mercado.

Former City Councilman and county Supervisor Paul Caruso dropped by the event, remembering all the decades of planning to improve downtown.

"I like it," said Caruso. "It just has some class to it."