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Turlock delves into city projects list

Screen snap of a video: School board president Timm LaVelle speaks at the Turlock City Council meeting Tuesday evening (04-28-09) in Turlock as council member Ted Howze looks on at right.
Screen snap of a video: School board president Timm LaVelle speaks at the Turlock City Council meeting Tuesday evening (04-28-09) in Turlock as council member Ted Howze looks on at right. Turlock City Council

TURLOCK -- From south Turlock's "Junior Miss" to former Mayor Brad Bates, dozens of people gripped the podium and spoke fervently for rebuilding the Carnegie Arts Center.

But the majority of the City Council, meeting as the Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday night, did not consider it a top contender for $10.4 million in redevelopment money.

"Great impassioned pleas, I appreciate it," Councilman Ted Howze told the audience. "It's either going to ... be a Carnegie project and nothing else or other projects."

The city's most recent project list says the Carnegie would require $3 million in redevelopment money, with the rest coming from other sources. Howze has said he worries ongoing costs for the Carnegie would drain more redevelopment money.

Councilwoman Mary Jackson and Mayor John Lazar were the only council members to list the arts center as a top priority. But Councilwoman Amy Bublak said she may support the Carnegie if it included a youth center.

The city plans to go out to bid for a builder on the estimated $9 million project Thursday, interim City Manager and Police Chief Gary Hampton said.

The council, sitting as the Redevelopment Agency, will meet within two months to take a vote on which projects to fund, Hampton said.

About 150 people filled the council chambers and crowded into the hallway Tuesday, where they stood or sat against the walls listening to audio of the meeting.

More than 50 people filled out cards in support of the Carnegie, and two people's cards opposed the project, Lazar said.

One person, Chris Camp, spoke in favor of spending money on new turf and an all-weather track for Turlock High's aging stadium.

"I don't understand why we can't come together and have a facility that will be safe for the kids and benefit this city," Camp said.

A redevelopment agency is a tool that helps fund larger public projects, eliminate neighborhood blight and encourage economic development.

School board President Timm LaVelle has said the Turlock Unified School District has "absolutely no interest" in city funds to renovate Joe Debely Field. He said the district could lose control over the use of the stadium and the move would require redrawing the redevelopment agency boundaries.

LaVelle put the conflict between the Turlock High stadium project and the Carnegie on the record when he confronted Howze last week, claiming Howze offered $2 million of the city's redevelopment money to remodel the stadium. LaVelle said he worried the money would come at the expense of the Carnegie. Howze said Tuesday he was the one approached by those interested in city funds.

In late 2007, the City Council approved a $9.3 million plan for a renovated, two- story Carnegie Arts Center, a project more than a decade in the making.

"That vote was a promise to the citizens of Turlock," said Kristen Santos, a local historian and author.

But in the middle of a renovation in November 2005, burglars burned the arts center to cover their tracks, police have said.

"We have a burned-out shell of a building on city property surrounded by a fence," California State University, Stanislaus, music Professor Dustin Soiseth said. "I don't know what would qualify as blight if that doesn't."

The city has spent $840,000 in redevelopment funds for architectural design and plans. The city Arts Commission expects art shows, theater groups, lecturers, fund-raisers, classes, business meetings, weddings and other social gatherings.

"We're letting down our children who have wonderful talents if we don't follow up," said Linda Murphy-Lopes, principal of Julien Elementary School.

A handful of people spoke up about funding a parking garage in downtown Turlock. All council members cited parking as a top priority, saying it would help downtown bounce back.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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