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Park-entrance plans continue to advance

Applegate Park is a sprawling complex, more than 32 acres, with no focal point or main entryway. But steps are being taken to give it one.

As a first step, the city of Merced is negotiating to buy three homes at the southeast corner of the park, at M and 26th streets, tear them down and ultimately fashion a grand entrance for the park, Merced's oldest and stateliest of recreation complexes.

Alexander Hall, the city's director of parks and community services, hopes to report back his progress in acquiring the properties to the Merced City Council in about three weeks. There's no money in the current city budget for the beautification project, which Hall thinks will take about $200,000 to do right.

Merced City Councilman Jim Sanders said the existing homes don't fit the image of the area and have been in disarray for about 20 years. He said if the homes had any historical significance he might have a problem with the acquisition.

"That would open that corner up a bit, make the park a little more visible. The houses take away visually from the park and there are better uses for that corner," Sanders said.

Hall visualizes a 12-foot-wide pedestrian entryway into Applegate Park on the three-quarters of an acre where the houses are located. He also envisions benches, an arbor or shelter, with ground cover, grass, pedestrian walkways and other visual elements.

Councilman Bill Spriggs said the three houses have deteriorated to the point it doesn't make any economic sense to rehabilitate them. The homes have been on the market for almost a year with no takers and Spriggs, an appraiser, said private buyers would tear them down anyway.

"It makes the most sense to enlarge Applegate Park. The homes are an unattractive nuisance; one has dry rot issues and a bad roof. M Street is not the best location for residential properties. Applegate is the oldest and biggest park and it would make it a much nicer park site, with increased safety aspects," Spriggs said.

Applegate Park is bordered by Bear Creek, M and R streets and West 26th Street. City Council member Michele Gabriault-Acosta said Applegate Park was the site of the first county fairgrounds and she remembers it used to have a fish pond and duck pond, both of which are gone now.

"Applegate Park is the crown jewel of the city's parks. This will add to the neighborhood, make a safer entrance. Those houses are dilapidated and bring down the neighborhood," Gabriault-Acosta said.

Gordon Gray, the city's public works manager, said the three homes were nice in their day. Other than the rose garden and Laura Fountain, which front M Street, Applegate Park doesn't have a formal entrance.

"We are looking for visibility, to make it beautiful and maintain the mature trees there. The tentative timetable, if things go forward, would be to start demolishing the homes at the first of the year," Hall said.

A project site plan, like a master plan, may be presented to the council Nov. 19 to set these beautification plans in motion, Hall said. The homes are now for sale as a group for $750,000.

When it was first mentioned last summer, Tammara Seibert, who lives across the street from the homes, said she would rather see them restored than torn down. Another neighbor, Valerie Albano, thought an improved entrance to the park would be preferable than making the corner a parking lot as first rumored.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or Reporter Leslie Albrecht contributed to this report.