Our kids are back in school, back-to-school nights are in full swing, and the weather is cooling down. Soon the holiday season will be upon us.
As we settle into fall, I’d like to share an update on what’s happening in the city of Merced. Your City Council has been working hard to increase the quality of life in our city on the rise.
We are in a period of strong growth in the building sector. Last fiscal year we issued more building permits than we have in any recent year. Earlier this year, Merced County was identified as having the fastest-growing population in the state. Locally, much of the population growth has occurred as a result of UC Merced’s 2020 Project, which will bring the student population to 10,000 students by August 2020.
I am proud of the fact that growth in our housing stock is not just in north Merced. New subdivisions are under construction in south Merced and infill housing projects are happening in central Merced.
In our downtown, the Tioga apartments, El Capitan Hotel and Mainzer Theatre projects are steaming ahead. Those projects will open in the coming months, bringing additional housing, entertainment, and top-rated hotel capacity to the community. A few short years ago, finding parking downtown was never a problem. Now we are making plans to create more parking to accommodate the increased demand. Downtown is becoming a destination and more improvements are on the way.
The view of Merced from the freeway will also be changing. In the coming years, the Campus Parkway interchange will be home to a five-story Hilton Garden Inn. Other plans there include a conference center, restaurants, a gas station, and multi-family housing. Expect groundbreakings on some of those in 2020 after the winter weather.
Work is progressing on building Campus Parkway, the four-lane expressway that will ultimately link Highway 99 to Yosemite Avenue near the UC Merced campus. Phase II is currently under construction from Childs Avenue to Highway 140. It is more than 80 percent complete and is scheduled to be finished next year. Merced County is heading up this important project and will begin construction on Phase III in 2020.
Merced is getting some new places to take the family to eat. Teriyaki Don, a Fresno favorite, just opened in the Promenade Shopping Center. Atwater’s Freddy’s Kitchen-Torteria, is sharing its cuisine in Merced. Rally’s/Checkers Burgers is also coming. And if you just want to grab a cup of coffee, Dutch Bros. Coffee is opening a drive-thru on Childs Avenue near Parsons.
The owners of Merced Mall are moving forward with their plans to bring us an improved mall experience.
It isn’t just housing, restaurant, and retail options that are expanding. Our existing industrial businesses are also expanding, which is a good sign. It shows that our local businesses believe in our community. For example, Titan Doors, O’Keeffe’s/Safti-First, and Centurion Boats all are making major expansions to their local operations. In total, they’re adding tens of thousands of square feet to their local facilities. All this expansion means these companies can grow sales and increase hiring.
Homelessness is an issue that concerns all of us. Like other California cities, we have significant challenges, but progress is being made. We will soon break ground on a complex on 13th Street with housing to help our homeless veterans. Additionally, the city is in a partnership to create a multifamily housing project at Childs Avenue and B Street. One quarter of the units will be dedicated to permanent supportive care, the kind of housing that has been shown to work in helping people experiencing homelessness.
There are big things happening in Merced, and some smaller things too. For example, one of the accomplishments that fills me with pride is the new bike path that we constructed connecting Black Rascal Creek to Bear Creek along Highway 59. The city also put in a new playground at Applegate Park. This is the city’s first wheelchair accessible playground and is adapted for children with special needs. Near John Muir Elementary we will be turning an old firehouse that was decommissioned years ago into a youth recreation center. We’ve also been steadily increasing the number of police officers and emergency dispatchers and replacing outdated vehicles and equipment in our fire, police, and public works departments.
Overall, we are headed in a good direction as a city. We will remain prudent in our fiscal expenditures saving money for the next rainy day and making key investments that will serve the public and pay dividends for many years to come. Merced is a city on the rise.