RIVERBANK -- A decade and a half in the making, downtown Riverbank's overhaul began Tuesday evening as Mayor Chris Crifasi sunk the first hole in a paved lot.
"I'm looking around at buildings realizing it won't look like this in a few years," Crifasi said during the groundbreaking.
By the end of 2009, at least $6 million will have been spent on the downtown area. There will be a park called Del Rio Plaza at Santa Fe and Third streets, where Crifasi sunk that hole. Rainwater will drain in pipes beneath streets, prevent- ing flooding of businesses, which happened after a heavy rain in 2006. A landscaped cen- ter divider will shade the main drag. In an effort to make down- town more pedestrian friendly, sidewalks will be widened and landscaped, and pavers will beautify crosswalks, sidewalks and roundabouts.
The beautification will include the lot on the northeast corner of Santa Fe and Third streets. A water feature, lush landscaping, stage and sculpture are planned to turn the lot into a plaza.
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"Riverbank is no longer the armpit of the county, but truly the head of revitalization," Councilwoman Virginia Madueño said.
Crifasi said the revitalization project will redirect residents downtown.
"I'm tired of hearing people say downtown Riverbank is Crossroads," he said of the successful and growing shopping center at Oakdale and Claribel roads.
City officials hope a renovated Del Rio Theater will entice people downtown to see shows and perhaps shop or have dinner. The renovation is a separate project, but is considered vital to downtown revitalization.
"It's time other cities stop negating what we do and start emulating it," Councilwoman Sandra Benitez said.
City officials had said upgrades to some alleys would start ahead of the rainy season and the rest of the project's first phase, which includes basic infrastructure such as sewer and storm drains. Those projects were to start in the spring. This week, city officials said construction will start the second week of November and continue as long as possible into the winter. Phase one should be finished by the end of spring, when the beautification will begin.
Those involved in the project are expected to release a schedule next week.
"We've waited 15 years for this. Now there won't be any more disappointments," Benitez said.
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or email@example.com.