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By Jessica Rognes | Source
Change is everywhere this summer in the city of Winters.
From the bridge that leads into town to the city block cleared for a hotel to a training center that Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) plans to build off Highway 128, it is clear the small city is under renovation.
The city’s redevelopment is the result of eight years of strategy on how to upgrade downtown, according to Winters Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.
She grew up in Winters and has seen plenty of change in the city.
“When I was a kid, downtown was the heart of the community,” Aguiar-Curry said.
Downtown used to have more retailers, car dealerships and grocers, she explained, which is full of people every weekend.
“There’s always an event going on in Winters,” Aguiar-Curry said.
Last week was Bike Week, she said, when businesses decorate and display bicycles. Today, it’s Relay for Life.
To restore the shops that are downtown, the businesses have started with painting storefronts, as well as updating brick buildings and sidewalks, while keeping the original feel of the city.
“It keeps the character downtown,” she said.
The redevelopment is partly funded by local private investors, the business owners, who, like her are from Winters. Old and new businesses alike have been part of redevelopment.
“They went to high school here,” Aguiar-Curry said. “Then they went to college, came back and opened businesses.”
Redevelopment can be seen before visitors even arrive downtown though, as the Winters Bridge is under heavy construction.
The 102-year-old, three-span historic bridge will soon be replaced with a five-span concrete bridge that will include two traffic lanes, a sidewalk and crosswalk for a connection with an adjacent trestle bridge. It also will include two belvederes for viewing Putah Creek, and pedestrian lighting.
A steel temporary bridge, parallel to where the old bridge once stood and where the new one is being built, is being used until construction is complete.
The bridge is being replaced, according to county officials, because of narrow geometry and a substandard foundation.
The new car bridge will open in November or December this year, Aguiar-Curry said.
In the next few weeks, the road into town will be closed, she added.
Under the bridge, another project, the restoration of Putah Creek, is currently in progress.
And a (PG&E) project in another part of town promises to bring more visitors into downtown to enjoy the creek area and the businesses during the week. The city will encourage PG&E employees to park at their office and walk or ride their bikes over to downtown, Aguiar-Curry said.
The project, a PG&E Gas Operations and Technical Training Center, is under construction off Highway 128 and East Grant Avenue.
The city had already redone the sewer and water lines, moving those out near where the center will be, Agiuar-Curry said.
“It’s your typical industrial building, but it’s a technical school,” she said, noting it was a $75 million project on PG&E’s part.
These are the last of the projects that were initially planned before the recession.
Additionally, 40 homes and a senior housing project on East Baker Street are being developed as well, as more people move to Winters.
Another development, the city’s recently improved Public Safety Center, was helpful in the initial stages of the Wragg Fire.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have that, because before it was a metal building with no amenities,” Agiuar-Curry said.
Firefighters were able to shower and rest there, and set up a command center at the beginning of the fire, she said.
But the most noticeable change beyond the Winters Bridge is a vacant city block that City Hall currently overlooks.
The lot, once the site of local businesses and the Winters Express newspaper, will be the site of a new hotel in the middle of downtown.
“We’ve been wanting a hotel for a long time, because we have a lot of tourists, wedding venues nearby and Lake Berryessa,” Aguiar-Curry said.
The back patio area of the planned hotel will include a walkway directly into downtown, coming out at Piano Park, where a used piano sits each year for locals and visitors alike to play.
“Everything we’re trying to do is connect everything, so it’s easier for visitors to walk through,” she said.
In addition to the usual tourists, the PG&E project starts will bring 50 full-time employees and 15-20 training students who will need a place to stay initially, she said.
One of the businesses that used to sit on the lot relocated next to the Buckhorn Steakhouse, while the Winters Express, currently moved down the street, will have space in the hotel.
“I think we were very cautious, careful as we were relocating businesses,” she said.
Aguiar-Curry’s reach doesn’t end in Winters though. She, along with Congressmen John Garamendi, D- Solano, and Mike Thompson, D-Solano, also had a hand in establishing the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, which set aside 330,780 acres of mountains, meadows and other remote areas from that include Solano, Napa and Mendocino counties.
“I want to look over those hills and see no developers in there,” she said. “I love that view, it feels like coming home.”
She worked on getting environmental reviews from the gateway cities and had Winters children write letters to President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Earlier this month, Aguiar-Curry was invited to the White House to meet the president for the official establishment of the monument.
“The door opens, and he goes ‘Welcome to my home,’” she recalled of her meeting Obama.
The monument as well as the development in Winters are the result of several partnerships.
“I have a fabulous city manager, a fabulous city council,” Aguiar-Curry said.
She also noted that she has the help of local businesses, especially the Buckhorn and Palms Playhouse.
“Those have been instrumental businesses for bringing people to Winters,” she said.
With all the redevelopment, there are some buildings that won’t be changing soon, like Winters City Hall.
“We need to upgrade this, but there are some things you don’t want to upgrade,” Aguiar-Curry said. “And that’s our jail,” showing one cell door off the hallway from the council chambers.
After eight years of implementing redevelopment, Winters is already looking at plans for the next five years.