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Downtown seeing more investments

The El Capitan Hotel at 1715 M St. in Merced, Calif., is one of two buildings scheduled to undergo renovations in the coming months.
The El Capitan Hotel at 1715 M St. in Merced, Calif., is one of two buildings scheduled to undergo renovations in the coming months. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Two currently empty buildings that bookend the 600 block of Main Street in Merced are expected to soon be brought back to life.

The El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer Theater are set for multimillion-dollar upgrades from the same developer in coming months, according to city staff. Leaders are calling it a sign that Merced is attracting attention for its growth potential.

The project most likely to go under the knife first is the Mainzer, according to city staff, at 655 W. Main St. Records show plans for a sit-down restaurant, stage, movie theater and four bowling lanes.

The building has been empty for about seven years, according to Frank Quintero, the city’s economic development director. “Simply put, it’s a major reinvestment” in downtown of the kind that “we haven’t seen since redevelopment,” he said.

Redevelopment agencies across the state, like the one Merced used to give the Merced Theatre a face-lift, went away in 2011.

Mainzer needs less work than the hotel, he said. Tenants already have left the hotel, which was operating as an apartment building. Quintero said the price tag for renovations was not yet available.

The building was built in 1937, according to Sarah Lim, director of the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

The theater is sandwiched by the Merced Multicultural Arts Center and the Cinema Cafe, and backs up to City Hall.

The diner has applied to sell alcohol, but city records make it clear that the spot will not include a nightclub. The movie theater has 158 seats in its current state.

With a state high-speed rail stop planned in Merced and the $1.4 billion plan to expand UC Merced, city leaders said, investors are seeing new life in the city.

Councilman Mike Murphy noted the history of both buildings, calling them “anchors” to revitalizing downtown. “With the economy coming back and the influx of students that UC Merced’s preparing for, it’s certainly perfect timing and a perfect place to invest in downtown Merced,” he said.

The City Council in 2012 slashed developer fees in an attempt to drum up new investments, he noted.

Work on the El Capitan will nearly triple the number of rooms to 100, making it into a boutique hotel. San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hotels is partnering in the renovation of the hotel.

More than 20 Joie de Vivre locations can be found in California, according to the company’s website, with many more in other states.

Merced City Manager Steve Carrigan spoke highly of the company. “When I heard they were involved, I knew we were on to something here,” he said.

The four-story El Capitan,at 1715 M St., would expand toward Main Street, according to plans.

Each project could take roughly two years to complete, Carrigan said.

Also planned for downtown in the near future is a 67,400-square-foot building capable of housing about 370 employees, called the UC Merced Downtown Center. Then there’s Downtown Commons, a mixed-use retail and apartment complex at 18th and N streets.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo also pointed to high-speed rail, UC Merced and reduced developer fees as reasons for recent interest in Merced’s downtown.

“Providing people coming to downtown with opportunity for recreation is going to be great,” he said. “I think that will really benefit downtown.”

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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