By Steve Carrigan
Congratulations Merced, we’ve had an awesome year.
Drive around and you can see it. Get close enough and you can smell it. And it’s hard not to hear it.
The evidence is all over Merced, from the hammers pounding in Bellevue Ranch to the cement trucks downtown.
Merced is building, Merced is growing, Merced is rebounding. The recession is behind us, along with all of the bad things that came with it.
The city has taken major steps forward, and our local economy is rolling along. Personal income in the city is up 13.7 percent and the unemployment rate dropped to 8 percent – a huge improvement from the days when our jobless rate was 22 percent.
We have 2,307 building permits pulled this year, the fourth highest since 2004. We have five national homebuilders investing in Merced and more than 200 permits issued for single-family homes.
City Hall is a conglomerate with a half-billion dollars in net assets, and we have been busy, too. We passed a $200 million budget. We held the first by-district elections for City Council to improve accessibility to our elected officials. We updated our zoning ordinance for the first time since 1964. We approved a medical marijuana ordinance allowing four dispensaries. We opened a splash park at Stephen Leonard Park. We rolled out the Merced Connect smartphone app that puts residents directly in touch with City Hall. We have a new website to make it easier to find information.
We reached a revenue sharing agreement with Merced County that will let us annex new areas into the city. This will allow us to serve developing areas including along the Bellevue Corridor and Yosemite Avenue.
Downtown is booming and will continue to grow. The Mainzer Theatre is scheduled for renovation and work will begin next year to expand the historic El Capitan Hotel and turn it into a boutique hotel, attracting tourists heading to Yosemite along with business clients.
Downtown there’s a new Starbucks, Dickie’s Barbeque Pit and Les Schwab Tires, soon to be joined by a fitness center, and Rockin’ Jump, a family entertainment center. Also heading downtown is the California high-speed rail, and we are working to make sure it has the maximum positive impact on residents.
Elsewhere, the old bowling alley was leveled and in its place there will soon be a Steak ’n Shake, KFC and an Arco. Nearby a Marriott TownePlace Suites is being built. On the other end of Merced, we opened a Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Pizza Factory and Cozy Fox. In the pipeline we have the Merced Gateway Retail Center, the Merced Mall renovation, and the Bob Cat Diner, Quickly and EECU coming to the Promenade.
UC Merced has a $45 million administration building that is sprouting across from City Hall and soon to be home to 370 employees in a 67,000-square-foot office complex. UC Merced is a big partner in our economy with its 2020 Project that will grow the student body to 10,000 students and add 1 million square feet of classroom, office and other buildings at a cost of $1.3 billion. That is a lot of construction jobs in four years and a lot more jobs for faculty and staff.
While 2016 was a good year, 2017 presents some challenges. We had to put off doing some things during the recession. We have a 1970s-era computer system that needs to be replaced by 2020 for about $1 million. The Fire Department has a ladder truck that is overdue to be replaced at a cost of $1.4 million.
Then there is water. The state is telling us to regulate our groundwater use at the same time it is threatening to take more of the surface water that recharges it. And if economic history holds true, we are due another recession in two to three years. We must prepare for that.
The 462 city employees worked hard to help make all these positive things happen, but they didn’t do it alone. It took the people who work here, who study here and the 83,962 people who are proud to call Merced home to make it happen. Good job, folks, and Happy New Year!
Steve Carrigan is Merced’s City Manager; he wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.
Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/article123838614.html#storylink=cpy
Frank Quintero | Director of Economic Development
City of Merced | 678 W. 18th Street | Merced, CA 95340
(209) 385-6827 office
(209) 388-7612 pc fax