On the last Wednesday in February, at the end of a special City Council meeting on priorities for the city, there was a general consensus that “we ought to do something about Yosemite Avenue.” Well, here’s another thought: Don’t worry about Yosemite Avenue. It’s taking care of itself.
I know the council members are under pressure from some of their constituents to turn back the clock to when Yosemite Avenue was the quintessential Main Street USA, but that wouldn’t be possible without spending hundreds of millions of dollars. Dozens of old, under-maintained buildings would have to be bought, torn down and rebuilt to new standards. State Highway 145 would have to be rerouted, necessitating thousands of hours of design, public hearings and rebuilding to modern standards.
Downtown businesses on and around Yosemite Avenue would be disrupted, possibly bankrupted by such a makeover. Yosemite is the backbone of downtown, but there is plenty of business meat in the ribs — the streets that intersect Yosemite. Lawsuits would fly back and forth like the blackbirds and pigeons that call the eaves of downtown buildings home; and there lies what may be the biggest rub, and to some the biggest surprise: Those businesses already are transforming Yosemite Avenue into a busy, walkable business district that serves the needs of the surrounding community. And it works.
In case you don’t know it, downtown Madera has provided as much as 25 percent of the total sales tax collections for the city.
That percentage for downtown may have gone down now that Vintage Motors Buick Cadillac GMC has sold and the business moved to Madera Avenue. But new businesses seem to pop up downtown continually. Valley First Credit Union just opened on D Street, joining five major banks in the downtown area, and those banks are busy.
There are restaurants, bars, small grocery stores, two bakeries, clothing stores, gift shops, furniture stores, an indoor mini-mall, a boutique brewery, beauty shops, barber shops, tax offices, the Social Security Administration offices, the Madera Redevelopment Agency office building, two bus depots (one informal), the Madera District Chamber of Commerce offices, two service stations, the city’s biggest medical clinic, dental offices, a dental laboratory, a travel agency, agencies for sending money to Mexico, an appliance store and the city’s senior center.
Yosemite Avenue already has been transformed — by those who do business there.
The Redevelopment Agency has done much to upgrade the area, but the state, by eliminating redevelopment agencies, has put an end to any more public help Yosemite Avenue might get.
But then, it doesn’t appear to need it now.