UC Merced breaks ground Wednesday on a three-story office building expected to group 370 employees downtown, an addition that Main Street businesses are eager to welcome.
After the $45 million Downtown Center is completed in fall of 2017, it is expected to inject downtown restaurants, shops and service providers with an infusion of spending from the university workers.
“That’s good news to us,” said Mark Purnell, co-owner of Five Ten Bistro. “Anytime you bring 400 jobs, that’s good news to us.”
Purnell said his eatery next to Bob Hart Square sees local customers come in from nearby through much of the year. Summertime is bolstered by tourists passing through on their way to Yosemite National Park, he said.
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More potential customers is good for downtown, and Merced in turn, he said.
That’s good news to us. Anytime you bring 400 jobs, that’s good news to us.
Mark Purnell, co-owner of Five Ten Bistro
Linda Aguilar, an assistant manager at Cold Stone Creamery, agreed that employing people downtown should have a trickle-down effect for local shops. “That’s going to be good for business,” she said.
The ice cream shop relies on the foot traffic, she said.
Though the Downtown Center isn’t specifically part of UC Merced’s 2020 Project, it will coincide with the campus’s doubling in size. 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.
Locating hundreds of non-faculty employees downtown could free up space for research and instruction at the main campus. “This, too, will expand significantly when we begin development later this year on the 2020 Project, which will double on-campus physical capacity over the next four years and allow us to grow to 10,000 students,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland wrote this month in an open letter.
School leaders have said they also want the presence downtown to strengthen the bonds between the university and the local community.
Pinocchio’s Restaurant owner A.J. Pinocchio said his eatery doesn’t seem to attract UC students, but that’s understandable because students tend to live on tight budgets. He said the restaurant does well with local customer support, so bringing more people downtown should be an added benefit.
370Number of employees expected at Downtown Center
“A lot of people in downtown and working downtown, they like to stay downtown,” he said.
No decisions have been made about the future of the properties the university already leases in downtown office buildings, according to UC Merced spokeswoman Patti Waid. Some of those employees could potentially be moved to the Downtown Center, she said.
About 300 employees already are based at rented downtown facilities, Waid said.
Shops that don’t serve food also could benefit from extra eyes passing down Main Street. Alissa Haynes, the manager at Second Time Around Used Books, said she can’t predict exactly what it would mean to have new UC Merced employees in the area. She just hopes for the best.
“I just want Merced to do well,” she said.
UC Merced is set to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new building with a block party from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at N and 18th streets. The groundbreaking and block party is set to offer local food, music, children’s activities and more.