Since 2005, Merced has been home to University of California, Merced. Current recreational opportunities in the city include Applegate Park and zoo, Bear and Black Rascal Creeks and their bike trails, a skate park located in Applegate, Playhouse Merced, a live-stage theater downtown, two first-run movie theaters, The Mainzer Theater which is known for its historic and architectural value, the County Courthouse Museum circa 1889, the Merced Multicultural Arts Center and the County Library. Though still growing, Merced has several shopping areas including the Merced Mall, anchored by Target, JCPenney and Kohl's, a strip mall located on the city's northwest side which includes Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Lowe's, Walmart, and several restaurants. Merced's Main Street contains several restaurants, a movie theater, and other assorted shops.
Also within a short distance from the city limits are the Castle Air Museum, Lake Yosemite, and Merced Falls. The city of Merced along with its surrounding cities are serviced by the Merced Sun-Star and the Merced County Times. The Sun-Star daily newspaper has a circulation of over 20,000 in the Merced area and the Times weekly newspaper has a circulation of over 5,000.
Main Street in Merced California
Homes at the median level in Merced had lost 62% of their value from the second quarter of 2006, when they peaked at $336,743, the biggest drop anywhere in the country, according to data provided to Forbes by Local Market Monitor, a Cary, North-Carolina-based real-estate research firm. Home prices have since rebounded, with the median sale price in April 2018 at $247,000. Earlier, home building and buying grew exponentially in Merced, but the metro area went to a 14.2% unemployment rate in December 2013. Having since recovered to a rate of 8.7% in April 2018, it is still above the national and state unemployment averages. However, some efforts have been directed towards diversifying its economy and are showing a lowering trend in the overall unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
During the Great Recession Merced suffered one of the greatest property price collapses in the country and house prices at the end of 2009 had fallen to 1998 levels, according to Zillow, making housing affordable compared to many other California locations. Merced's population has grown faster than the state average since 1980. Over the past nine years, the annualized growth rate is about 3.4%. This rapid expansion of population has stimulated significant retail growth since 1992. Several major retail chain stores have entered Merced, adding over 750,000 square feet (70,000 m2) of new retail space in that time and increasing the City's sales tax receipts by over $500,000 annually.
The economy has traditionally relied upon agribusiness and upon the presence of Castle Air Force Base. Over the past twenty years, more diversified industry has entered the area, including printing, fiberglass boat building, warehousing and distribution, and packaging industries.
In September 1995, Castle Air Force Base closed after phasing down over the previous three years. This affected residential real estate and some sectors of the retail and service economies but overall retail continued to increase. No significant increase in unemployment was noted. Re-use of the former base is actively proceeding. Industrial development is increasing in the area.
Since 1992, more than 400,000 square feet (37,000 m2) of new industrial activity has started. In May 1995, Merced was selected as the home of the next University of California campus. UC Merced opened with its first 1,000 students in September 2005. Local planning is underway to accommodate campus development, which will eventually accommodate about 25,000 students.
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