Some 100 Maderans gathered Thursday evening to meet the architectural team charged with creating a proposed civic center in the city’s core.
Central to the overall project would be construction of a cultural arts center across the street from Memorial Courthouse Park, near the former courthouse and county administration building at the corner of Yosemite Avenue and G Street.
Staff members and colleagues of Paul Halajian Architects of Clovis led the meeting and conducted discussions at several tables in the Madera South High School cafeteria.
Former school superintendent Julia O’Kane was mistress of ceremonies.
Topics for discussion included Madera’s downtown, the proposed cultural center, Memorial Courthouse Park, and how transportation and traffic patterns could be improved.
After the table conversations were finished, an open discussion was held about what people had learned
Some of those in attendance were surprised to learn that the population of Madera is made up primarily of Mexican Hispanics — 75 percent, in fact.
Those who spoke during the open discussion did not introduce themselves.
One participant looked around the room and noticed almost no Hispanic faces.
“We need to reach that demographic,” he said, “but I’m not sure how you would go about doing that.
“I think you would meet them through churches and local clubs; I, unfortunately, do not know how to do that.”
“This is a good group here,” said another, “but there is probably a whole ‘nother group out there that is not being represented, one that could be a real motivating force.”
Another spoke to what she called the importance of reaching youth.
“Our high school programs, our people at Madera Center (Community College) that are college age.”
Another said that an important key to downtown would be convincing business owners and building owners to upgrade. “If you want it to be a nice downtown, there’s going to have to be renovation. There are some dilapidated areas in the downtown area.”
“The problem with that,” said Arts Council President Jim Glynn is that a lot of those owners are absentee owners, and that these absentee owners have owned these buildings for 20 years, sometimes even more. And the problem is that if they were to sell them, they would be hit with capital gains tax.
“About 10 years ago, when Jim Taubert was head of the Madera Redevelopment Agency, he had a plan where they could swap out property and would not get hit with the tax.”
Returning to the subject of attracting young people, one participant wondered, “How could we attract students and young people to make this a more attractive place for them? Especially if they would like to come in and have coffee, study, cram, whatever the case may be. We have this population of youth that’s not invited in here, and that’s going to be the future of Madera. If our population is mostly Millennials, then that is the population I think we should be considering. We have to look 40 years down the road, because these will be the future of the town.”
Another said the Millennials are gathering now, just not downtown.
“We have to figure out where they are gathering now. Is it at Starbucks? If so, which one, or is it both?
And another raised a question about numbers the architects had provided: With 12, 13, 14 hundred people in the civic district every day, where are those people having their lunches? Where are those people having their coffee when they show up for jury duty? They don’t always come at the same time, of course. We don’t see 1,500 people out and about. Where are the college kids? Where are the people in the civic district on a daily basis. Who are we losing that to?”
Another participant pointed out that the Madera Center is isolated. “It’s not conveniently close to town. I think people who are out there probably stay out there.”
Another woman said she was aware that some community college students go to Fresno for their break times.
“We know we can’t just leave downtown Madera alone and they will come,” said another participant. “You have to intentionally think about what is the character of downtown.”
Another participant said it might be foolish to spend so much time, and possibly money, thinking about downtown. “Downtown is what downtown is,” he said. “Concentrate on the cultural center, and make it the destination, and the owners of the downtown properties will fix their properties up themselves. We can’t fix downtown. We don’t have the money. We can’t fix everything in Madera. We could hopefully get the money to build the civic center, and have an area to go to, then the visitors would come.
“I know a lot of high school students who drive all the way to Fresno to get Dutch Brothers coffee,” said one teacher.
Another participant suggested trying to figure out how to go to where the students are “and to take the maps that are on display here to the students gathered in those places and get their input on what they would want to have to get them to come downtown.”
At least two more community meetings on the subjects will be held, one in March and another about two months later.