Merced leaders say the good news is they are getting a lot of inquiries from a variety of companies that are interested in filling the vacant buildings around town.
This gateway to Downtown Merced will soon have a whole new look. A demolition crew is busy tearing down the large, vacant building materials store on 16th street near Martin Luther King Junior Way. City officials have approved a new convenience store, a value store, and some additional tenant space for the area, despite the fact they'll sit in the path of the planned high speed rail route.
"The developer was very candid when we spoke about the high speed rail project and his project, and at the end he said if the high speed rail wants the project at the end, they'll just buy it from him." Merced Economic Development Director Frank Quintero said.
Several other changes are also underway in Merced. The former blockbuster building at olive and r is being transformed into three separate spaces. A Chipotle Mexican Grill is set to open in December, Panera Bread should open by late January, and an unnamed corporate store could be next.
"We're working with a third tenant to go into that spot, and from what i understand close to lease negotiations being final," Quintero said.
The Orchard Supply Hardware across the street is still sitting empty, but Quintero says a family entertainment center is interested in the space. Meanwhile, the Barnes and Noble that recently announced plans to close by January is now trying to stay open on a month to month lease.
"if it leaves, boy I don't know what they'd put in this place, but it would be a big gap in our little community," Merced resident Iris Horton said.
Quintero said the city is already considering other options.
"Our job right now is not to sit down and wait for the store to close but to find a real quality tenant that will complement the center and be another draw to the community," Quintero said
Officials say they are also seeing some economic growth in other areas. White Oak Frozen Foods are now up and running with 31 fulltime employees and 100 seasonal workers. And by next summer a massive Walmart distribution center will break ground.