Merced should be the regional leader for jobs, safe neighborhoods, desirable housing and educational opportunities, Mayor Mike Murphy said Friday during his first State of the City address.
Murphy, who was sworn into office last month, addressed a packed house at the Merced Theatre, which has room for about 1,300. The State of the City address was the first of its kind in recent memory, if not ever, the mayor told the Sun-Star.
“We are at a historic venue for what I feel is a historic gathering,” Murphy said.
The address leaned heavily on economic development for the city of about 84,000. Murphy touted a “renaissance” in Merced’s downtown, which has seen new interest in the renovation of old structures.
He pointed to the El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer Theater, each of which are set for multimillion-dollar upgrades from the same developer in coming months, according to the city’s staff. Spurring further growth in downtown, he said, is UC Merced’s plan to build the Downtown Center, a 67,400-square-foot building capable of housing about 370 employees.
“This influx of university employees will be in our downtown core every day eating meals, getting haircuts, purchasing professional services and supplies, and enjoying the arts and entertainment that we have to offer,” he said. “We are pleased to welcome the campus community to their new location downtown that is scheduled to open this fall.”
The plan to double the size of the main campus of UC Merced will pour $1.3 billion into the area, creating more than 10,000 construction jobs, Murphy noted.
Merced also is set to have the northernmost stop built in the earliest plans for high-speed rail. Murphy noted the controversy that surrounds the train, but said it would be a boon for Merced.
“Our top priority with respect to high-speed rail is to ensure that the new station built in Merced works for Merced, not just for Sacramento,” he said. “We need to secure the benefits that come from increased transportation options, while safeguarding the charm and character of our downtown retail corridors and residential neighborhoods.”
As the city grows, Murphy said, staffers will look to add 250 new homes a year, as well as three to five more officers to the police force per year. Bellevue Road from G Street to the UC Merced campus is being called “Merced’s Technology Corridor” as it draws interest from developers looking to partner with the university or its students, he said.
A number of other factors are adding to the injection of developer dollars, he said. Personal income in Merced has risen by 13.7 percent since 2012, according to the trade magazine Governing, a rate that is top in the nation. Though local unemployment (10.8 percent) is higher than the state and national averages, it’s considerably lower than when it hovered around 20 percent during the Great Recession.
“Let’s elevate the way that we speak about our city,” Murphy said. “I am a clear-eyed realist and know the challenges that we face, but let’s not sell ourselves short. Merced is a city on the rise.”
The day’s other speaker was Robert Dylina, Merced Greater Chamber of Commerce board chairman. The chamber co-sponsored the event.
He, too, highlighted the coming growth at UC Merced, planned high-speed-rail station and other projects set for the region.
“One of our keys for development will be a well-prepared workforce,” he said.
To that end, he said, the chamber conducts leadership programs for young people and adults.
A video of the mayor’s entire speech is at www.cityofmerced.org.