RIVERBANK — Hoping to invigorate Riverbank’s historic downtown, business owners and city officials held two public meetings in August and September to invite input on how to boost economic activity in the area.
The revitalization focuses on a four-block radius branching from the heart of downtown at Santa Fe and Third streets, but exact boundaries of the effort have yet to be determined.
While Riverbank’s downtown corridor enjoyed a city-funded $17 million facelift from 2008 to 2010, the hoped-for commerce and traffic to the area didn’t materialize.
The recent sale of the Del Rio Theater and upcoming plans for its redevelopment, however, have generated a renewed energy toward stimulating the area. Situated on Highway 108, the Del Rio could provide a gateway into downtown.
“That is now spurring efforts to talk with the businesses and the (property) owners to get them to think about how to attract customers and new businesses downtown,” said Riverbank Mayor Richard O’Brien. “With the Del Rio Theater, there’s the possibility of directing traffic at least one or two blocks in.”
Riverbank’s Galaxy Theater complex also offers opportunities to attract visitors downtown. With Galaxy ticket sales in the hundreds of thousands per year, O’Brien believes the timing is right to leverage the theater’s success.
“If every Riverbankian went to the theater three times a year, that’s only 70,000 tickets,” he said. “So if he’s selling 750,000, we might as well start trying to attract different activities, not just the movie. So that’s what we’re trying to capture right now.”
Downtown business owners are interested in drawing Galaxy’s customers downtown for more than just a visit.
“We have these people coming thorough Riverbank, but we need people to want to invest in Riverbank,” said Vena Hudgins, owner of Vena’s Wellness and Skincare Studio on Santa Fe Street.
Previously located in Oakdale for 18 years, Hudgins has leased space downtown for the past two years.
“Right now downtown Riverbank is such a deal. To me, it’s the deal of the county,” she said. “The prices are amazing. the area is nice. It is right in the middle of my clients from Oakdale and my clients from Modesto. But now I’m drawing from clients from Manteca and Turlock.”
After leasing space elsewhere in Riverbank for 15 years, Lana Clayton, owner of Farmers Insurance and Financial Services, also moved her business to Santa Fe Street two years ago.
“I bought the building. I felt like it was a beautiful deal and beautiful scenery. That’s the reason I came down here. I love it,” she said.
Both Hudgins and Clayton believe the area is ripe for new commerce.
“Eight hundred people come into our studio on a monthly basis and then I have to send them away to do anything,” said Hudgins. “We have a wonderful Pizza Plus, but there’s no other little places for them to stop. We need to get some excitement down here.”
Hosting festivals and live entertainment downtown may encourage visitors and investors to the area.
“I’d like to see us being able to put on events downtown, to showcase the downtown where it will entice people not only to come downtown and remember there’s a downtown, but maybe entice people that are looking at moving their business or opening up a new business to really take a look,” said Hudgins.
A Facebook group, Riverbank Crossroads and Adjacent, is one way of advertising and giving people a glimpse of what downtown Riverbank has to offer business owners. Facilitated by a community member who is not a business owner but is interested in a downtown resurgence, the group has more than 2,200 members.
“Social media is the greatest way to entice and advertise. A couple of times I’ve gone with my video camera down the streets just to show Crossroads that this is downtown and then people will say, ‘This would be so nice to open up this or open up that,’” Clayton said.The women hope the renewed energy toward downtown will also encourage reciprocal business practices among local Riverbank businesses.
“We’re very passionate on Facebook to our local people here to keep your business local. We need to support the local economy,” said Clayton. “We both continue to remind everybody if you want your property value to maintain, you’ve got to start supporting your local Riverbank business.”
At the conclusion of the second and final meeting in September, downtown business owners agreed to create a committee to investigate forming a Riverbank Business Improvement District.
A business improvement district is a non-profit organization that collects a self-tax from property owners and businesses to provide services and programs to the entire district above and beyond what the city provides.
The city of Riverbank is giving the committee contact information for pro bono legal help to potentially establish the non-profit entity.
“We want the businesses to grow. Whatever they want, we’ll see where we can fit in and be able to help them further that,” O’Brien said.
Downtown isn’t the only Riverbank area targeted for improvement. Land adjacent the Crossroads Shopping Center, known as Dutch Hollow Farms, is scheduled for development.
“We went before LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), the land use board for Stanislaus County, and we have the sphere of influence pushed out all the way to Coffee Road,” O’Brien said. “The owners are the Bosios and they would like to see that developed into commercial and we’re reviewing the specific plan for that.”
The next step is to get an Environmental Impact Report, expected to be conducted over the coming year. Once that report is completed, the city will return to LAFCO and request annexation for development. O’Brien expects annexation to occur within three years.
“We’re also doing housing. It’s going to be the Crossroads Shopping Center that we will be calling Crossroads West. The development will be housing and commercial, schools, parks and a new fire station,” O’Brien said.