The other evening I was standing outside of Alfonso's Mexican Restaurant chatting with some folks during the Chamber ribbon cutting. It was a nice fall evening.
Still fresh in my mind was the brutally honest discussion about downtown Ceres staged three days before. The Chamber of Commerce had suggested to the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board (the Planning Commission), that after the city spending obscene amounts of money and staging hundreds of community meetings since the late 1980s, downtown is still the same old unattractive place that excites virtually no one.
Sure, in the 1990s the city installed a clock and planter and roundabout at Fourth and Lawrence. It also installed a roundabout at Fourth and North.
Sure, there are a few festive banners hung on poles and trees surrounded by plastic grates in the sidewalk.
It's all lipstick on a pig.
I'm not saying downtown is a pig but let's be frank: There is nothing special about downtown to draw people off of 99 to drop money into the Ceres economy. It doesn't do the trick. Even the Valero convenience store fails to draw as it has a reputation for not having much stock on its shelves.
Downtown Ceres holds great promise but it needs lots of help. If downtown is going to change, it's going to require millions of dollars of private investment.
I stood looking south at the block that is jammed between Alfonso's and the Pine Street overpass. The roar of freeway traffic noise was muffled by buildings - including an old bank building that is used to house Delhart furniture store mattress. My imagination kicked in and I saw a bulldozer razing the whole block to present a blank canvas for someone to do their private style of revitalization.
If I were an investor and the sky was the limit, I might capitalize on a city block that is seen by upwards of 200,000 drivers and passengers a day. Talk about excellent exposure.
Imagine if someone were to buy the whole block, which contains two houses, a row of pre-historic brick buildings, the West Coast Call Center, Jimenez Auto Sales and a martial arts studio. Imagine relocating those residents and businesses.
Imagine someone buying the non-descript block to the west that has two outdated gas stations (Valero and Eagle), and the IOOF Hall. That block has even greater visibility to the freeway.
Now let's imagine someone taking a wrecking ball to everything. (Well, maybe removing the historic 1905 TID building on Fourth Street and relocate it for a city preservation.) You would have some workable space to create a draw in downtown that would change Ceres like no Supercenter could.
Think what could be done in downtown with that kind of exposure. Let imagination take over.
How about a 10-screen movie complex with lots of unique exterior design and a marque that is emblazoned with neon? Throw in a 50's diner, maybe a Johnny Rockets, and a bowling alley?
How about an outdoor/indoor sales market with merchants selling wares or produce that would like the Casa de Fruta of the Valley?
Or what about a one-of-a-kind entertainment center with outdoor/indoor miniature golf or an indoor sky diving experience? Ice skating rink?
Or how about a community theater venue on the order of a Sierra Repertory Theater and upscale dinner houses or Italian restaurants with outdoor seating?
Or maybe about converting the block into something such as the celebrated Wall Drug Store in Wall, South Dakota which draws hundreds of thousands annually? (In case you have never seen it, Wall Drug is a full city block (76,000 square feet) of unique stores, eateries, a train station water show, rock shop, candy stores, an animatronic T-Rex that roars every 10-12 minutes and pure cornball coin-op gags.)
I realize this may all be dreaming but great things happen when people dream.
For the meanwhile, downtown has some significant issues.
1). Downtown is an aged hodge-podge of old buildings dating back to 100 years ago. Owners haven't hardly invested in paint let alone façade improvements.
2). Vacant stores are being rented out to churches which do nothing for the commercial district. And you can't tell the owner he can't.
3). Aging infrastructure cannot accommodate the 495 residential units that are planned to be introduced to the area in the Downtown Specific Plan to infuse 1,678 residents there. Remember that the state - led by Governor Moonbeam incarnate -- ripped off all of Ceres redevelopment funds, and took all of the downtown lots which the CRA purchased. Millions were ripped off by Jerry Brown because the state could not get its financial house in order. Shame on the state.
And shame on the city for siphoning off scant CDRAB dollars to pay for downtown light electricity. Really? Is the city's idea of redevelopment providing lighting for a business district with no night businesses? Take that hard-earned business money and do something with the ugly paint-chipped water tank. If Kingsburg could turn its water tank into a giant teapot that nobody forgets when they see it, the Ceres water tower surely could be turned into a giant replica of a cornucopia. Commission some metal working artist with a cutting torch to turn the tank into a cornucopia which is after all on the city emblem as a symbol of agriculture and all of Ceres fruitful bounty.
The hard part will be convincing somebody somewhere to drop money into downtown to let it do its magic. In the meantime we're all waiting with bated breath to see if anything will change in downtown now that the Chamber has vowed to work with stakeholders to make downtown better than it is.
My hunch says that the Chamber will have a better shot to sell downtown for the potential it has to generate dollars for business - something the city has not been able to do for the past quarter of a century. And let's be honest, that's the only real reason anyone will invest in downtown Ceres - to make money.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org