Travis Regalo grew up in northern Merced County — Atwater to be exact — but always felt like he was part of Turlock.
“Turlock has always had a thriving downtown. It’s a small town, but it has one of the best downtown districts. People from Merced County, where I grew up, came to Turlock to spend money,” said Regalo, who was named executive director of the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association in October. “So, I grew up with that vibe that everybody was coming to Turlock.”
Regalo worked for the family business — Happy Hour Events and Coordinating in Atwater. He’s planned everything from birthday parties and quinceañeras to truck pulls and concerts.
Regalo sees his new post as an extension of the family business — make downtown Turlock a happening “event” that will produce a steady stream of consumers for the district.
As it stands, right now the TDPOA does three major events each year — Festival of Lights, the Christmas Parade and Fourth of July.
"I would like to have at least one event a month,” said Regalo. “And it doesn’t even have to be the TDPOA that puts it on. I’d like groups to come in downtown and help them benefit our association, especially if they’re from Turlock. We want to promote as much Turlock as we can.”
TJ: Describe for us what the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association does.
Regalo: We’re basically no different than a homeowners association. We have a commitment with the city to keep downtown aesthetically pleasing. We take care of all the trees, the lights, the brick, in partnership with the city and we also try to keep downtown safe and protected. We also work with the businesses. And when the original PBID, most of the property owners owned the businesses inside those properties. There’s been a little bit of a shift. Not all the business owners own the property. Now, we have a business owners association, as well, that’s working on the business aspect. My goal is to bring people to our downtown as much as I can. I want to create the atmosphere, the vibe, the synergy, everything that downtown needs for people to come here. Turlock already has a very reputable downtown; we just need to improve and stay on top of it.
TJ: Tell me about the downtown occupancy rate right now. How does that look?
Regalo: We have a couple of buildings that are vacant. The old Rainbow Fabrics building caught fire and the story behind it is that it’s going to be too expensive to bring up to code and put somebody in there. There are three buildings on Main that are in similar situations and it’s our goal to get those buildings up to code.
TJ: So, it’s not a matter of there being no interest …
Regalo: Oh, there’s interest. But Rainbow Fabrics would be a major project, and right now there just isn’t the client to go in there to pay for that type of renovation. But our goal is to help bring the attraction here so that a client can manage it.
TJ: Are you seeing more attraction to second-story occupancy downtown?
Regalo: We definitely are. That’s why we want create more of a vibe downtown. We’re in talks with the city, we’re trying to rewrite the PBID (property and business improvement district) and put in a 10-year plan with the goal of Turlock being a city of events, so that more local businesses want to be downtown. Really, there are a lot of second-story spaces being utilized right now.
TJ: You mentioned creating a “vibe” downtown. Explain what you mean by that.
Regalo: We want downtown to be a place where people don’t think twice about coming to when they’re looking for something to do. It should be the natural place for people to say, “Let’s head downtown.” One of the things coming up that we’re excited about is the fraternity at CSUS — Kappa Sigma — is going to be having a car show that raises money for veterans. They’re still going through the rounds with the city and they’re looking at a date in the spring. These local events are what we want and we want to make it easier for people to come to Turlock and say, “We want to do an event here.”
TJ: That all sounds great, but there are issues facing downtown, namely the homeless issue?
Regalo: We are too small of an organization to tackle homelessness. The only way I see for us to thrive is to focus on the positives and push those forward so that those positives become the focus of our town, not homelessness. I’m not saying to ignore the issue, but we have to focus on bringing in the revenue and shining a spotlight on the good rather than the bad. Downtown is the heart of Turlock and we help steer Turlock in the direction we want to go. And I want to focus on the good so we have resources to help address those issues.
TJ: But you would admit that homelessness affects the downtown experience?
Regalo: Yes, you definitely can’t ignore that it’s a problem.
TJ: What about downtown parking?
Regalo: Parking has been an issue since the founding of the PBID, and that is something we’re trying to address in our next 10-year plan. There are public parking lots downtown, but sometimes the signage that tells people where to park is hard to read. So that’s something I want to address … the signage. And, ideally, downtown employees would not be parking on the streets, but in the lots.
TJ: So, tick them off for me. What kind of events would you like to bring downtown?
Regalo: A live music festival; car shows; the farmers market, I’d like to keep that thriving; a fall harvest festival; we could have a Christmas workshop that pops up on the weekends where we have handmade Christmas crafts. We could do an Oktoberfest beer festival. Now, some of these are at the fairgrounds and the fairgrounds is great for hosting local events, but sometimes there’s different vibes for different events — and some would do better in a downtown setting.