Tracy looks to property owners to develop downtown
by Michael Langley
Sep 20, 2013 | 4649 views | 2 2 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Andrew Malik, director of economic development, talks about the future of the West Side Market building, 741 Central Ave.on Sept. 4.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
Andrew Malik, director of economic development, talks about the future of the West Side Market building, 741 Central Ave.on Sept. 4. Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Andrew Malik, director of development services for the city of Tracy, stood on the sidewalk of 11th Street near E Street, looking east and then west down one of Tracy’s main thoroughfares. Despite empty spaces, some that have languished for years, and entire blocks of downtown for sale, the city director of development services was encouraged by what he saw.

“We’re hitting on all cylinders,” Malik said. “When you talk to developers, it’s not just about a single site. It’s really is a story of: What’s the bigger picture going on in Tracy? Where’s all the residential happening? What’s the new growth? The Cordes Ranch. The sales tax increasing. It really paints a full picture for a developer and investor. Right now, we’re looking really good in a lot of those segments. So we’re capitalizing on that.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the City Council approved the Cordes Ranch Specific Plan for 1,783 acres of open area along the southern boundary of Interstate 205, the northern border of Schulte Road and east and west of Mountain House Parkway.

Growth happening at the edges of Tracy that affects business downtown is a development Malik and the city have been waiting for. The plan is to make the downtown core an after-hours attraction: “Our goal is to get restaurants down here. Evening, night life, as well as weekend.”

Filling in holes

There are many business spots open in downtown along Central Avenue and 10th Street. Carousel Children’s Consignment, Richard’s Men’s Wear and many other closed businesses have left vacancies in a key part of the city.

In 2011, the city of Tracy acted to prevent Westside Market, at Eighth Street and Central Avenue, from becoming one of those holes.

“We actually bought it. It was part of redevelopment funds, and it was right before redevelopment went away,” Malik said. “It was a key opportunity site next to the Grand Theatre, so it was a win-win.”

According to the state of California, the 400 redevelopment agencies under its control gave cities roughly $5 billion a year to mitigate blighted areas of town. Malik said the city paid about $650,000 for the building, which by his account needs a lot of work.

“In fact, there are some portions of the building that seismically probably need to come down,” the development director said. “It has a basement. So there’s a lot there, but that means there’s also a lot to fix. A lot to bring up to code. A lot of that type of thing.”

But the potential of the former market best represents the trajectory of the entire downtown.

“The community’s growing. From the block parties to the Bean Fest to the events at the Grand,” Malik said. “The city’s commitment is that this is going to be a catalyst for downtown. We really want it to be something special.”

On Sept. 3, the City Council approved an agreement with Walnut Creek retail developer Bill Mitchell to find tenants or buyers for the Westside Market property.

“Amazon was a big catalyst. Tracy’s kind of on the map,” Malik said. “He’s done a lot of these. So that’s why he was looking to say, Hey, this is worthwhile. The community’s worthwhile.”

According to the WT Mitchell Group, Mitchell’s work includes Wine Grower’s Plaza in Lodi, Monte Vista Crossings Shopping Center in Turlock and Cabrillo Corners in Half Moon Bay.

Malik said Mitchell was impressed by the Grand, the Downtown Plaza and the success of Helm’s Ale House, which opened July 1 at 600 Central Ave.

“Success kind of builds upon itself. So he saw the vision in it,” Malik said.

A different story

The city has a clear vision of the future for Central Avenue and what to offer Tracy residents in that part of downtown. The city took a different approach with 11th Street in the original Downtown Specific Plan.

“At the time we went through that, the merchants and property owners in this area said, We want to have as broad a zoning as possible,” Malik said. “The property owners think that’s great, because they maximize what they can do on the property. But a lot of times, it kind of dilutes any type of real strategy, because the property owners can do just about anything. So you end up getting much the same of what you see.”

Strip shopping centers, vacant lots, gas stations and fast-food restaurants — such as the McDonald’s under construction at 11th and F streets — are what residents and visitors see now. Malik is clear that changes to the landscape of the main east-west route through downtown Tracy must come from within.

”Where you have a corridor come in and say, Let’s make this more of an identity of an area, a lot of times that comes from within, the property owners,” he said.

Malik believes the Tracy City Center Association, a group of owners along Central Avenue between Sixth and 11th streets, is a good model for other areas of town.

Malik said even a construction site for one McDonald’s can be a catalyst.

“I think what’s interesting is we now have some national tenants that are looking in infill sites,” the development director said. “That bodes well for other infill areas, some of the areas along 11th Street or Tracy Boulevard. Typical older strip centers that might need to come back and repurpose themselves.”

Malik sees the opportunity manifesting in a way that creates an entirely new 11th Street landscape.

“It’s encouraging. It’s kind of an opportunity for other development to come in, where you see infill, to repurpose and maybe breathe new life into certain areas,” he said. “You might see some apartments or row houses. Mixed use is real big.”

Putting it all together

So two parts of downtown, facing different challenges, may have some things in common.

“It’s kind of like where we were with the Westside Market,” Malik said. “You kind of say, all right, there’s a lot of positives. Let’s catch that momentum. What is some of the interest out there, and how do we leverage that into something better for the community.”

Malik said the attention Tracy is getting because of the big things going on around town may convince landholders that their plans for their property can now be realized.

“Tracy has gotten a lot of good publicity,” Malik said, “and I think a lot of these developers that maybe thought it was a long-term hold are also saying, well, maybe long-term is becoming more close in focus.”

• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or mlangley@tracypress.com.

The Tracy Press toured Tracy’s business districts with the city director of development services, Andrew Malik, on Sept. 4. That interview forms the basis for a new series on the business climate in the city.
Comments
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Jet1962
|
September 23, 2013
If would be nice if the businesses downtown stayed open later and open on weekends. We are a commuter town. I would love to go downtown but it is never open when I am in town.
victor_jm
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September 20, 2013
I am actually someone who enjoys walking in downtowns—and I don’t mean just where the shops are. I enjoy taking leisurely walks in the adjacent neighborhoods. I enjoy looking at beautiful properties that are clean and tidy; however, Tracy’s downtown neighborhoods are squalid (there are some nice, well-maintained houses). I’ve also walked down a few alleys in downtown Tracy---garbage, gang graffiti, garages converted into shanties (streets over-filled with vehicles because of this), etc. There are many properties that look as if they are from the slums of Mexico.

If your experience of a downtown is simply to consume something from a shop or restaurant then why bother.



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