Vista has been selected as one of five California cities that will receive state assistance under a special program to upgrade ailing downtown areas.

The city was among 54 in the state that applied for the so-called Main Street Program, a spinoff of similar efforts under way in 22 other states.

Vista was the only Southern California city selected. The other California cities chosen for the program are Fort Bragg, Petaluma, Sonora and Porterville.

During the next three years, officials with the state's newly formed Main Street agency will offer Vista's downtown merchants tips on marketing, advertising, window display design and building enhancement.

City officials say the state help comes at an opportune moment for downtown merchants, who have seen business decline dramatically in recent years as regional malls have opened in Carlsbad and Escondido.

Vista leaders had grown concerned about the city's chances in recent weeks after Councilman Lloyd von Haden, a staunch opponent to downtown redevelopment, sent a letter to Main Street officials suggesting that the city be excluded from consideration. In response, the four other council members sent a telegram registering their firm support for the program and their eagerness to see Vista selected.

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