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City has $15.3 million for projects
Infrastructure, soccer fields top projects
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A $15.3 million in bond proceeds from the state-exterminated Ceres Redevelopment Agency will be spent on a number of projects that will make Ceres both more shovel ready and enticing for new commercial development.

The state of California dissolved redevelopment agencies in the state - including the Ceres Redevelopment Agency - and froze bond proceeds which Ceres issued in 2006. The state has now cleared the way for the city to spend those monies on economic development related projects.

City Manager Toby Wells said the city must spend the money within two years.

The council gave direction on where to spend the funds, with the top project being to finish environmental work and start design work on the Service/Mitchell/Highway 99 interchange. The $3.84 million project would allow the city and Caltrans to begin acquiring right of way and set the stage for the $100 million to $120 million project. "Ultimate funding is another story," commented Wells.

The council also approved the idea of using $500,000 for the updating of the Ceres General Plan - called the framework for economic development by Wells - which was last updated in 1997. Wells said the 18-month to two-year project will cost $1.5 million. Mayor Chris Vierra said 1997 document is long overdue for an update.

The city also wants to use $2 million for actual roadway improvements to make the Service/Mitchell intersection more shovel-ready for commercial development. The project will widen Mitchell Road to six lanes (including dual turn lane) and undergrounding some utilities.

Vierra said Ceres should follow Turlock's example and get the infrastructure in place so shopping centers can be ready to go when they are proposed.

The council is supportive of updating the restroom facilities at Whitmore Park to the tune of $400,000 and the ones at Smyrna Park for $400,000. The Whitmore Park project would create sidewalks to allow handicapped access as well as add hot water for special events like a farmer's market or Ceres Street Faire. Vierra suggested "upsizing" the restroom sizes as well. Wells said pre-fabricated restrooms might be an option.

The council also gave its nod to use of $678,000 towards improvements to widen Whitmore Avenue on the south between Blaker and Morgan roads to its ultimate size. Councilman Mike Kline suggested widening Whitmore all the way to Crows Landing Road. Because the city of Modesto has jurisdiction of the north side of Whitmore Avenue, that section must be completed by them. The Whitmore project would widen and install curb, gutter and sidewalk to the 1,000 feet of Whitmore Avenue between the new Dollar General and the Vineyard/Quizno's fuel station.

The council spent some time debating the use of $2.3 million to improve the upper terrace of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park. The park master plan calls for the addition of a new league size soccer field and expand parking so the park may host state soccer cup tournaments and bring in out-of-town visitors who would stay and shop locally.

In discussing Ceres River Bluff Regional Park, Councilmember Linda Ryno suggested using funds on developing the lower terrace and Mayor Chris Vierra suggested developed the city's other undeveloped park sites. Wells said it would be hard to justify developing neighborhood parks since they would not meet the economic development purpose of the RDA funds. Wells argued too that the city is better primed to get grants to develop the lower terrace into its natural state. That would allow the city to use park development fees on the lower terrace. Councilman Bret Durossette said that it would be wise to enlarge the soccer complex to host state tournaments to stimulate Ceres' economy.

Because River Bluff Park is ready to go, the council decided to go forth with it. Unfinished neighborhood parks can be developed in phases with park funds at a later date, said Wells.

Wells also recommended $1.5 million for additional water system improvements to help the flow connectivity of the northern and southern parts of the city.

The council also agreed to allocated $1.5 million on sewer system improvements that would improve sewer flows on Service Road from Mitchell Road to Moffet Road as well as flows along Mitchell Road.

The council was in wholehearted support for the spending of $1.5 million on downtown Ceres improvements that include water, sewer and storm drainage. The city estimates $25 million is needed for full build out of downtown.

Mayor Vierra said he preferred "flashy" improvements "to entice people to come down" but also understood the need for infrastructure.

"We need to do something that draws people down there," said Ryno who suggested that she wanted to see funds spent on dolling up downtown to make it more attractive to potential developers. She commented that "downtown Waterford looked better than downtown Ceres."

Wells said he worked on both revitalizing Turlock and Livermore downtowns and said both started with underground sewer and water projects.

"I still think we need to pretty it up for businesses that want to come there and be a part of downtown," said Ryno.

Vierra commented that he'd like to see a charging station and a bus stop in downtown Ceres.

A number of other needs were farther down off the priority list, including $20 million to $30 million for infrastructure for the West Landing Specific Plan, a west Ceres development that is far from development.

Renee Ledbetter of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce said she definitely wants to see the Whitmore Park improvements as well as the downtown Ceres improvements.

"I'm very pleased to hear you say you'd like to see more money go into downtown," said Ledbetter. "We all know we're on a push to attract businesses and I think we're moving in the right direction and you have no idea how excited I am."

Ledbetter also suggested the Chamber is going after grants to conduct a visioning process for the city general plan and future of downtown.

Newly appointed Ceres economic development director Steve Hallam said the recommendations for infrastructure projects are necessary to make Ceres more marketable.

The council also spent time talking about developing a $50,000 master plan for the Clinton Whitmore Mansion. The greatest need at the facility is an outdoor restroom but what it should look like and where it is located has not been determined. Councilman Ken Lane said the Ceres Lions Club may help the city build the restroom.