The president of the University of California system stopped in Merced on Thursday to check progress on UC Merced’s future downtown administrative building and tour the neighborhood.
Janet Napolitano toured the construction site for the $45 million Downtown Center, which is expected to be the workspace for some 370 employees when it opens early next year.
Accompanied by UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, Mayor Mike Murphy, City Manager Steve Carrigan and other officials, Napolitano walked down N Street, passed along a stretch of Main Street and up M Street before stopping in at the UC Merced Venture Lab.
Napolitano, who spoke in Modesto earlier Thursday to urge high school students to aim for a UC education, made no public comments in Merced.
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“President Napolitano visited Merced today to learn about the many great things happening in the city and at UC Merced,” UC Merced spokesman James Leonard said in a statement. “She ... came away impressed by our collaborative, constructive spirit.”
During Napolitano’s 30-minute tour, she walked along the 600 block of West Main Street, including past the charred remains of the UC Oriental Market which have sat behind a chain-link fence since the business was destroyed in a Dec. 18 fire. At the Multicultural Arts Center, Napolitano stopped to view art pieces created by UC Merced students and chat with the center’s director, Colton Dennis.
He said collaborations with the university have already begun and he’s looking forward to the potential that comes with the Downtown Center around the corner.
“I have really high hopes,” he said, adding that foot traffic should increase throughout downtown. “Especially on our side of Main Street ... having people come into the (arts) center and use it.”
The arts center and UC Merced have collaborated with guest artists, a lecture series and music, he said.
“They have connections to bring arts and culture that normally passes over Merced,” he said.
The three-story Downtown Center is expected to help revitalize downtown Merced, with the workday presence of its staff boosting business for nearby restaurants, shops and service providers.
The 67,400-square-foot building will be at N and 18th streets on a piece of land the university bought for $630,000 in 2014.
“The university and the city are truly inseparable partners, and we look forward to continuing our shared growth and development,” Leonard said.
Reporter Thaddeus Miller contributed to this report.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486