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Merchants Discuss Downtown Redevelopment
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Riverbank merchants were complimentary about the current downtown construction work on the whole despite a few comments about blowing dust followed by messy mud when city officials updated them on progress to date at a Dec. 20 meeting.

Housing and Economic Development Director Tim Ogden and Buethe Communications representative Jan Stanley briefly sketched out the project and invited comments.

The city's Redevelopment Agency has a $7 million, two-year project under way to reconstruct the underground utilities and the streetscape in an area reaching from Atchison Street south to Patterson Road and from First eastward to Fourth Street.

One local businessman said he'd worked in construction for 30 years and he was impressed how the crews here complete their work and restore the street almost to normal each night.

"They dig their holes and cover them up fast. They are doing a tremendous job," he said.

"Business is down generally. But the housing industry is down and a lot of people are out of work. It's not all because of this project," said A. J Meyer, who owns a shoe shop and saddlery on Santa Fe Street just west of Third Street.

The city's sales tax revenues took a dip in the third quarter for the first time in 10 quarters, City Manager Rich Holmer commented, but sales tax revenues have held up well compared with neighboring cities.

Riverbank Business Association president and downtown merchant Karen Bickford said the construction crews are working fast and efficiently, are polite and doing their best to avoid disruption to the businesses.

She was concerned, however, about the lack of parking for customers, which could become a long-term problem as construction goes on throughout next year.

Holmer noted the city would open up a whole new parking lot on Third at Stanislaus Street when the medical clinic operated by Oak Valley Hospital District moves out, adding the District has indicated it will move to the professional building on Patterson Road (Highway 108) at Jackson Avenue, rather than elsewhere in the downtown.

Bickford also asked how merchants were supposed to get their garbage cans and dumpsters emptied now that there is construction work in the alleys behind their buildings. The project's inspector hired by the city said the contractor has agreed to move the dumpsters to the end of the alley for collection.

Riverbank Automotive & Smog owner Moises Gutierrez has his business located on First Street near the Sierra Street intersection on the southwest edge of the area under redevelopment but said he's had problems with dust and then mud coming from reconstruction of the drainage basin at First and Santa Fe streets.

"There was a lot of dust blowing into my business and then dirt piles opposite my shop. If dust gets into an engine and I lose it, I'll have to pay for it," he said.

The project inspector said he initially had problems with the company's road sweeper but this had now been corrected.

Gutierrez also brought up the subject of back flow devices the city is requiring of businesses to prevent contamination of the city's water.

Newly hired Public Works Director David Melilli said this is a new requirement by state health authorities that the city is trying to implement on a case-by-case basis downtown while construction offers an opportunity but eventually it will be extended to the whole town. The city is trying to obtain funds to offset the costs, Holmer added.

Discussion turned to getting information on the project out to the public that is being handled in newspapers, on websites and on television.

Channel 2 Television recently interviewed Meyer, Bickford and the city's Economic Development Manager Debbie Olsen for an informative program now running on that channel.