The University of California, Merced, will take a significant step toward establishing a permanent presence in downtown Merced today (June 8), when it breaks ground on its Downtown Campus Center, a three-story administrative facility to be built on the corner of 18th and N streets.
The public ceremony, scheduled for 5 p.m., will feature brief remarks by UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland, Merced Mayor Stan Thurston and Merced County Supervisor Hub Walsh. A block party reception will be held immediately after, featuring food trucks from local restaurants, music and activities for children.
“This new building will give UC Merced a much-needed physical presence in the heart of town, increase the economic vitality of the downtown area and create major new opportunities for collaboration between the university and the community,” Leland said. “We expect it to become the cornerstone of a growing downtown campus that complements our main campus and greatly strengthens our ability to serve and support the Merced community.”
The new 67,400-square-foot, $45 million facility will include offices, seminar and conference rooms, and mixed-use space that can be used for community collaborations, Leland said. It will allow the university to consolidate a host of business and administrative operations currently housed in leased facilities in and around the city and county, reducing costs and increasing efficiency. At full occupancy, the building can accommodate up to 370 people.
“Having UC Merced’s new administrative center located across from City Hall will provide an important economic boost to downtown businesses, apartments and restaurants, but it does so much more,” Merced City Manager Steve Carrigan said. “The downtown is Merced’s spiritual, government, economic and entertainment center, and the decision to locate here shows the university wants to be connected to the community at its heart and soul.”
Robert Matsuo, president of the Merced Main Street Association and proprietor of the Five Ten Bistro, added: “I am ecstatic about UC Merced’s decision to have a permanent presence in our city’s downtown core, as its new center will bridge the gap between the university and the downtown entertainment district. By building strategic partnerships with downtown business merchants, together we can make Merced the gold standard of all communities in the great Central Valley.”
The entrance to the new building will be designed to complement the neighboring City Hall, Leland said. The facility will be highly energy-efficient, make ample use of natural light and serve as a model of sustainable design and operation. Completion is scheduled for fall 2017.
Cori Lucero, UC Merced’s executive director of governmental and community relations, said the university is working closely with city officials to minimize disruptions during construction. A portion of N Street will be closed during construction to ensure safety for traffic and pedestrian travel in the immediate vicinity. The university is also working with city officials to secure additional parking for downtown staff members and to minimize parking impacts on nearby merchants.
UC Merced acquired the land for the new building at auction for $630,000 in 2014. The 0.85-acre site was previously an abandoned parking lot.
Other parts of UC Merced’s growing downtown presence include the Venture Lab, a business incubator operated by the university’s Office of Research and Economic Development in the Parcade Building at 18th and M streets, and the UC Merced Alliance for Child and Family Health and Development, a resource center for parents, caregivers and community members at 1018 W. 18th St. The university also leases space in the Mondo Building at West Main and Canal streets for various staff operations.
The university’s main campus is also expected to grow significantly over the next four years. A proposal to double the physical capacity of the campus received preliminary approval from the UC Board of Regents in November. The university is currently reviewing detailed design proposals and construction bids from pre-qualified teams of developers, with a goal of selecting the winning design later this month. Design review and a proposal to approve external financing for the project are expected to go before the regents in July.