Business Journal Editor
The Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto was the perfect venue for the first annual State of Downtown Modesto address given by Josh Bridegroom, CEO of the Downtown Modesto Partnership.
On April 14, business, city and community leaders gathered to share ideas and hear how the area has been changed to become more attractive to visitors over the past year.
The Downtown Modesto Partnership (or DoMo, as it is called), was created in 2015 to create a new image for the once blighted area comprised of one square mile from L Street on the northwest side to G Street on the southeast, and from 9th Street on the southwest to 18th Street on the northwest side.
Bridegroom gave a talk in which he highlighted the many successes DoMo has chalked up in the past year. Its objectives are a three-part vision statement:
- Downtown Modesto is a safe, inviting and beautiful place that inspires a powerful sense of community pride.
- Downtown Modesto is a vibrant destination for community connection, with world-class cuisine, arts and entertainment – indisputably the place to be.
- Downtown Modesto is bursting with business growth and new development; the place for shopping, high quality urban living and innovative enterprise.
“The question that’s on the property owners’ minds in the audience today is, ‘what did you do with my money?’,” Bridegroom said. Property owner assessments – roughly $639,153 – fund 97.4 percent of DoMo’s operating expenses. Events income provides the remaining 2.6 percent. “A lot of what the property owners told us they want us to do with their money is making bad things go away.”
Bridegoom said the task is to make things invisible. That includes cleaning up utility boxes, landscaping, garbage removal, graffiti abatement and dealing with the homeless population. Which DoMo has done. During its 2016 year, the nonprofit used 82 percent of its operating budget for cleaning and safety programs and image enhancement services.
The results of those efforts include:
- 110,184 pounds of garbage collected to date
- 134 gutters cleared of debris, keeping crosswalks from being flooded
- 178 places cleaned of graffiti
- 36 sets of tree lights maintained
- 3,098 business interactions
- 1,146 homeless interactions
- 1,489 patrons assisted
- 1,296 security responses
The efforts are paying off. In 2016, DoMo introduced a night market held on 10th Street, of which some 17,000-plus patrons visited, boosting business owners’ profits, some by 40 percent.
“People are interested in seeing what the downtown has done,” Joe Cunningham, president of Warden’s Office Supplies, said. Cunningham moved to Modesto 17 years ago from the San Fernando Valley to take the job. He wanted to live where he worked, and the city was the perfect fit, though the downtown area was lacking. But now, he said, the differences are visual from the reduction of vandalism to the DoMo staff members in yellow shirts who patrol the streets looking for issues to resolve.
The Modesto Police Department is also actively engaged in helping to take care of any crime-abatement issues that occur in the downtown area. Chief Galen Carroll took to the stage to talk about some of the strategies being employed to curb crime and reduce an undesirable element.
Carroll pointed to a map pinpointing crime statistics of Modesto. Downtown was a large red spot, denoting the highest amount of activity. Broken down, however, the majority of calls for service were for traffic stops and people coming into the police department for security checks and restraining orders.
“If we get rid of the police station, the problems would go away,” Carroll joked. “Yes, we have some challenges downtown … but I think there’s a lot to look forward to and be positive about.”
A three-person panel highlighting culture, cuisine and community was held prior to the address. The panel discussed the various changes taking place that revolve around the three categories.
“Modesto was declared the ‘least livable city in the U.S.’ We looked at that and said, ‘how can we respond as an art museum, staying truthful to our mission, yet do something to improve the quality of life for the city,’” Bob Barzan, founder of the Modesto Art Museum and co-host of Modesto Architecture Festival, said. “It (the museum) started out as just a fun thing to do, yet we’ve been very community engaged.”
Jeff Brown, co-owner of Commonwealth, a Downtown Modest restaurant, said opening the business in the area was a leap of faith. He wasn’t sure if the market would be a conducive environment to success or not. It has since done quite well and he is looking to open a second restaurant downtown.
“We like the feeling of being able to walk outside of your building and seeing a hub of activity,” Brown said. “After being at this for three years, we’ve really found that there’s a lot of opportunity in Downtown Modesto, and there wouldn’t have been any other area of Modesto we’d want to be.”
Ruhi Sheikh, co-founder of ModShop and Porchfest, has promoted local artisan crafts by bringing various products from over 100 vendors into 10 shops during the holidays. ModShop puts the focus on keeping dollars local.
“It’s a bustling fun evening, full of music and shopping and friends and delicious food and drinks,” Sheikh said.
DoMo is continuing its efforts to revitalize downtown by working with other agencies, improve the perception of the region as safe, making it more attractive to potential businesses and developers and bringing in “top drawer” community events.