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Nov 09

Pursuing A New Perspective on Downtown

Posted on November 9, 2018 at 2:04 PM by Thomas Reeves

I am very pleased to announce a new initiative aimed at refreshing the city's perspective on what our downtown could and should look like.  A few months ago, my team set out to re-imagine and re-design one of our key downtown streets, and in the process, we heard loud and clear from the community and stakeholders about the need for a larger, more encompassing vision for all our downtown streets and public spaces.  

You spoke, we listened, and the message we received was that our residents and downtown partners want an exciting and vibrant place to live, work, and play.  It is quite clear that in our planning efforts, our neighbors want a robust plan that considers how public spaces (streets, open spaces, and civic buildings), new and re-imagined land uses, economic development, and infrastructure and technology will help the City achieve the vision of the downtown.  

And we won't know what that vision is, or how the vision addresses the needs and desires of all our neighbors until we go through this master planning process.  

Drawing Upon Our Past
Modesto was founded in 1870 as a stop on a rail line, which at the time was constructed to connect northern and southern California through the San Joaquin Valley.  Modesto’s original layout is still visible today, a 640-acre tract oriented parallel to the rail line: the City’s current Downtown, a one-square-mile section of numbered and lettered streets, which serves as the civic, cultural and entertainment hub for the City and region.

Incorporated in 1884, the City of Modesto has grown significantly and is the 18th largest city in California and the 103rd largest City in the United States, behind Spokane, Washington, Des Moines, Iowa and Boise, Idaho.  As the City has grown, the downtown has shifted in prominence and importance both to the City and the region.  Today, the downtown serves as the epicenter of the region, but it was not always that way. 

After thriving for decades with numerous hotels and ample retail options, the downtown was severely impacted by the development of the Vintage Faire Mall, changing lifestyles, and urban development.  Subsequently, less than 20 years ago, it was perhaps unfathomable that Downtown would or could become a vibrant civic, cultural, dining, and entertainment hub for the region.

While some redevelopment efforts of the late 1980s and 1990s were unsuccessful, others, such as the DoubleTree Hotel and Convention Center, Tenth Street Place, and Brenden Theatres have helped to bring vibrancy to the downtown.  This in turn led to further development such as the Gallo Arts Center, which includes two large theaters and a proliferation of dining and entertainment options, as well as the refreshing of 10th Street between I and J Streets, which is home to two fine reception halls.

While downtown Modesto is a regional dining and entertainment draw, the county seat, and regional employment center, it still has great potential to build on its recent successes and provide greater retail, entertainment, dining, and employment options.  This is a primary purpose of this planning effort.

Recent Efforts
Over the last several years, the City of Modesto has explored a redesign of J Street, a primary thoroughfare within the Downtown.  With approximately $1.5 million in State gas tax funds, the City recently considered reducing the number of lanes and adding new parking through a repaving effort along J Street.  Ultimately, it was decided that the City should develop a downtown plan to ensure decisions such as these fit into the broader vision of the downtown.

The City has developed and commissioned a number of great planning documents and policies that will serve as the foundation for this effort.  Additionally, the City has approved certain streetscape features, such as street lights, benches and trash containers, which help define the aesthetic quality and character of the downtown, as well as utilities master plans, which address the City’s ability to serve both existing and new development in the downtown.  

There are two major projects currently underway that could significantly alter the downtown; therefore, this is an ideal time to comprehensively consider its future.  First, the State of California, in coordination with Stanislaus County, is expected to construct a full-service courthouse on the city block bordered by 9th, 10th, H, and G Streets.  The courthouse project could be completed in 2023.  Second, the Altamont Corridor Express is planning an extension of their passenger rail service to Modesto in 2023 (or sooner, dependent on funding).  This extension will provide greater access to bay area markets, and is even expected to increase opportunities for large companies to locate in Modesto.

One other significant item of note is the Tuolumne River Regional Park (TRRP) system and the significant work that has begun on the network of parks along the river – including the TRRP Gateway park project adjacent to downtown Modesto.  All great cities embrace and utilize their natural amenities.

This Downtown Master Plan should set a vision for the future of Modesto’s city center and also identify ways to realize that vision. This Master Plan will consider how public spaces (streets, open spaces and civic buildings), new and re-imagined land uses, economic development, and infrastructure/technology will help the City achieve the vision of the downtown.  

This is an ideal time for the City to comprehensively imagine the future of the downtown and the City.  
We can't wait to get to work on this with you!

For the official Request for Proposals, check out the city's contracting page.