Community Columns

Gallo Center gives Modesto's renaissance a focal point

The Gallo Center for the Arts has captured something many Modesto residents thought we might have lost forever -- the soul of our city. Even with the recent downtown renaissance of restaurants and night life, there has remained a sense of something missing, as though Modesto was still years away from achieving a true urban presence.

The Gallo Center has changed all that. We now have a nucleus, a hub, a place we can point to with pride as representing what we are and where we're going. Best of all, the center has begun to pull together the rest of the city, like a crown jewel surrounded by lesser but nonetheless shining lights.

The Damrell building, Tenth Street Place, the State Theatre, Galletto Ristorante and the DoubleTree Hotel are adding up to a destination with a sense of place. Much of the downtown transformation has been accomplished by Modesto's leading citizens -- a roster that includes names such as Damrell, Gallo, Foster, Rogers, Zagaris and many others. But this has also been an effort involving the public, with Stanislaus County Supervisors taking bold but controversial stands in favor of both Tenth Street Place and the Gallo Center for the Arts.

This time, they got it right.

With recent news that downtown's tax dollars are helping fill Modesto's budget coffers, the prospect that revitalized business will help turn the city's fortunes around seems even brighter. Meanwhile, enterprising attorneys Bart Barringer and Jim Mayol plan to build a condominium tower in the middle of it all, and it's now easy to imagine why someone would want to live there.

We can only hope the good news will encourage even more downtown investment -- a gourmet delicatessen, a stylish haberdashery, some specialty gift and food shops and a women's boutique or two would help diversify the retail base and bring even more business to Modesto's center.

And while we're enjoying the downtown renaissance, we shouldn't forget the potential draw of the long-envisioned Tuolumne Regional Park and the slowly growing San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge. Modesto lies between the confluence of three great rivers, and just as we did for so long with our city, we've forgotten how majestic and inspiring those rivers can be.

The giant oaks, the vast expanse of cottonwoods and willows, the teeming winter wildlife with hundreds of thousands of visiting waterfowl, the potential return of endangered species and an impressive list of resident birds and animals are resources long overlooked in favor of housing tracts and strip centers.

For those in the know, however, the wildlife values and natural history of the Central Valley remain major attractions that someday will help attract the businesses and jobs that our region so sorely needs.

Modesto's rebirth has only just begun, but even so there's never been a better excuse to go downtown, spend some money and let the good times roll. And in the near future, we may have the opportunity to picnic under the oaks before enjoying our night on the town.

Caine, a Modesto resident, teaches in the humanities department at Merced College. E-mail him at columns@modbee.com.

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