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City to add pizzaz to downtown streetscape
The city is poised to order aesthetic improvements to two blocks of Fourth Street. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Improvements to two blocks of downtown Ceres worth $1.5 million designed to wow visitors and residents alike will be unveiled next month.

O'Dell Engineering is in the process of designing streetscape improvements to Fourth Street, including an arch at El Camino and Fourth to delineate the beginning of downtown as seen from Highway 99. City Engineer Daryl Jordan said improvements will include curb bump-outs into the street, the planting of trees and aesthetic accents to street crossings with pavers and in some cases new sidewalks.

"It'll be a little bit of a facelift," said Jordan.

The plan will be unveiled at the July 18 meeting of the Ceres Planning Commission.

"This is a beautification project," said City Manager Toby Wells.

City of Ceres Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said the city is "looking to put some money downtown to kind of make some improvement to it to attract some businesses and folks to come on downtown."

The last streetscape improvements occurred in the early 1990s with roundabouts, a street clock, street trees with plastic grates and decorative street lights. In 2014 the Ceres City Council expressed wholehearted support for the spending of $1.5 million in $15.3 million worth of bond proceeds from the state-exterminated Ceres Redevelopment Agency on downtown Ceres improvements. Eventually the city wants to improve water, sewer and storm drain lines in downtown to support a mix use of residential and retail buildings as outlined in 2011 Downtown Strategic Plan. The "blueprint" sets development standards, land use regulations and identifies circulation improvements and infrastructure needs. The city estimates $25 million is needed for full build out of downtown.

With the city on the heels of pricy improvements to downtown Ceres, is it time to expand the boundaries of the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board? During a recent report on CDRAB given to the Ceres Planning Commission, Commissioner Couper Condit wondered if an expansion is now warranted to increase revenues and expand revitalization efforts. Laurie Smith, another member of the panel, also expressed that the idea may have merits.

Wells said an expansion is possible but promised to look into the number of steps that would need to be taken, starting with a consultation with legal staff.

The current downtown district goes as far north a little past Magnolia Street. The idea is to expand to Whitmore Avenue to include the Chevron station at Central and Whitmore and the neighboring Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The district is generally bounded by Magnolia Street to the north, El Camino Avenue on the west, Sixth Street on the east, south to Park Street and El Camino. In 2009, the city attempted to expand the boundaries of the district to extend to Whitmore Avenue but none of the affected businesses were interested.

"I think there's some businesses up there that could have some revenue that could be utilized into the CDRAB budget, so yeah, that's what they talked about at the meeting," said Westbrook.

Expanding the district could be a matter best brought up when the city presents designs for infrastructure to Fourth Street, he said.

There is talk of increasing the assessment levied on businesses within the district. Renee Ledbetter, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, told the panel that she doesn't want to see a change until the city can demonstrate where the funds already collected will be spent.

In 2014 CDRAB had spent $3,846.73 while total revenue was $3,781. As of Dec. 30, 2014, CDRAB had a cash balance of $80,708.74.

The revitalization of downtown has been a struggle since the city formed it in the late 1980s. The board overseeing the effort had originally been formed of downtown businessmen but lack of interest resulted in the Ceres Planning Commission taking the reins.