Expressway to Ferrari Ranch called road to Atwater's future

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comMarch 13, 2013 

A proposed development riding the coattails of a major expressway project could bring a spark of life to the area.

The Ferrari Ranch Project is a proposed 202-acre development near the southeast corner of Atwater, but just outside the city limit.

The project calls for a hotel, restaurants, a hospital, offices, big-box retailers, smaller shops and other business spaces, according to a land-use diagram.

However, all that relies on the creation of the Atwater-Merced Expressway, a project that aims to create a thoroughfare that starts at Highway 99, crosses Santa Fe Drive with an overpass and connects to Castle Commerce Center with an interchange.

The expressway would continue on to Highway 59 and UC Merced.

$52 million approved

Earlier this month, the California Transportation Commission approved $52 million for the project. Part of that money will go to the portion of the expressway that runs from Highway 99 to Green Sands Avenue. The Ferrari Ranch development would be along that route.

Work on the expressway could start as early as July, said Steve Gonzalez, a public information officer for Caltrans.

The Ferrari Ranch Project won't start until after that section of the expressway is completed, which could take more than two years.

Scott McBride, Atwater's acting community development director, said the project is still in the early planning stages.

Though the project hasn't cost the city anything so far, during a meeting Monday, the Atwater City Council approved a reimbursement agreement to recoup staff time and expenses spent on the project.

But that decision wasn't a blanket approval for the project, McBride noted.

There are a lot of studies and agreements that have to be worked through. The city also needs to annex about 342 acres to bring the site inside the city limit.

McBride described the project as an exciting opening for job development and city growth.

"It's a great opportunity for a large, comprehensively planned project around a brand-new interchange," he said. "These opportunities don't come around very often."

David Dolter, project manager for Ferrari Ranch, said the development, which has been planned since 2006, will make a big financial difference for Atwater and Merced County.

"This is the future of the city of Atwater," he said.

'Prime location'

The Ferrari Ranch Project location is an area that will generate a lot of traffic once the expressway is completed, as it will connect UC Merced to Highway 99, Dolter noted.

"It's a prime location in the Central Valley," he said. "It's just a great site for the type of project we have envisioned here."

Once the project is approved and ready for development, the rate of growth will depend a lot on private-sector businesses, Dolter said. That variable could allow for either rapid growth or slower-paced development.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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