The opening of the UC Merced Downtown Center on Tuesday was heralded by leaders as a sign of a greater intertwining of relationships between the school and city.
The $45 million center's first floor was on display during a ceremony held just outside the building that is across 18th Street from City Hall. The 67,400-square-foot building is projected to eventually hold about 370 employees, officials have said.
Chancellor Dorothy Leland said downtown business owners and government officials have expressed support for the new building. "This building is designed to unite UC Merced and the community," she said.
The three-story structure is expected to inject downtown restaurants, shops and service providers with an infusion of spending from university workers.
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Leland noted the building will also have two classrooms.
Between the rented office space in downtown and the UC's Venture Lab, the campus already has a significant presence downtown, according to Mayor Mike Murphy.
"The construction of this beautiful structure is a physical manifestation of an increasing investment in our downtown," he said.
With the potential of more people working downtown and spending their dollars there comes the possibility for an increase of cars and foot traffic.
Acting Police Chief Chris Goodwin said he doesn't expect the building to change how officers patrol the city, noting the building is downtown. "We're always down here," he said.
The Downtown Center will have its own security, but Merced police will likely be the first responders in the case of 911 calls.
City Manager Steve Carrigan said the building has helped spur interest in downtown, including the revitalization of the Mainzer Theatre and El Capitan Hotel. The hotel is expected to go under construction next month, he said.
The first floor of the center is expected to be full of employees by the end of next month, according to UC officials, with more coming as the second and third stories are built out. More employees could mean more cars.
UC Merced has leased some parking space in the adjacent garage on the north side of 18th Street, according to Frank Quintero, the director of economic development for Merced. There are about 2,500 parking spaces in all of downtown, he said, adding past studies have shown about 35 percent of the spaces are used during peak hours not including on the day of an event.
As parking spaces fill up, assuming the downtown gets busier, residents may need to get used to parking and walking a block in the city's entertainment district, Quintero said.
"This is what we've asked for as far as redevelopment (of downtown)," he said. "It's nice to have a parking problem."