Sactown Urban Update

Sactown Urban Update

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our DT rebirth continues…

As reported in a previous Blog, demolition of the old Downtown Plaza has gone well and now the effort is concentrating on fashioning a “bowl” where the area seating will be built using pre-cast concrete from West Sacramento. 

Getting the bowl dug out is the priority now so that the superstructure can be built that supports the roof.  The main outer roof is planned to be on by early Fall 2015 with “dry in” (work on the interior of the new area beginning around mid-December, 2015.  Concrete for the construction beginning soon will come in primarily after hours according to Turner Construction.

Workers at work.  On any given day right now, there are up to about 125 workers on the site; previously demolition type trades and now excavation and infrastructure trades. But as construction of the new building kicks into high gear in the Spring well see that number increase dramatically, and by the time the roof is finished and work on the interior can begins there will be a congestion of trades including electricians, plumbers, technology installers and so on, perhaps numbering 500 or more.

All of this work, of course has to be coordinated with many different specialists and many city and county agencies.  The General Contractor has said that there has been terrific cooperation among the city, county, water agencies and others to keep this huge project moving along as scheduled.

They said the area would bring more development – and that is starting to happen!  Our Downtown rebirth continues...  with a recent proposal for a 16 story high rise to be built next to the new ESC (Entertainment and Sports Complex – aka the Kings new area).
Recent plans for development around the new arena envision public space between the arena and the high rise to potentially be built on the southwest corner of J and 6th street.  The public space will connect the area and retail businesses.

Retail business, including restaurants and bars (food and beverage) would be on the first two levels, then a boutique hotel, with the 5 residential levels on top.  It is not yet settled whether there will be owner occupied units, but currently the thinking is there will be luxury rental units that may be purchased later as condominiums.

...And, Macy’s will reopen its 5th street entrance with a possible makeover of the store’s interior.  Stay tuned…

Saturday, December 27, 2014

From a Hole, comes a Bowl...

Just a few months ago demolition began of 2/3rds of the Downtown Plaza on K Street to begin to make way for the new, state of the art Entertainment and Sports Center (the ESC).  Demolition went well and excavation is proceeding on schedule with contractors working every day of  the week except Sunday and ending their day as promised at 11 PM (except for one incident that went later due to a sub-contractor not adhering to the schedule – but that was quickly corrected).

With the removal of the demolished buildings finished, the workers are now digging out a huge hole in the ground that is to become the stadium seating bowl for many future entertainment and sports events; and the work is going fast – hauling out a truck load of dirt and material every 3 1/5 minutes!

Going down to come back up.  They’ll get down to about 4 feet above the water table; that’s what they need to support the micro piling equipment that will drill down to bedrock below to secure the new building.  The micro piling equipment consists of 8 foot sections of drills screwed together as they are bored into the ground.

The majority of the seating for the new stadium will be below ground level and the seating structure will be built with pre-cast concrete from the West Sacramento firm of Clark Pacific.

For now we see a huge hole in the ground but the owner’s goal is to have some event going on there 360 days a year!  Stay tuned for more…

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pitching the Pitch - Soccer in Downtown’s future?

At a recent meeting with local business leaders, Warren Smith , Manager and President, Sacramento Republic Football Club explained some of the key things that Major League Soccer is looking for in a league expansion city and shared some interesting insights about how we are positioned and how we got to where we are.

The national pro soccer league leadership is primarily looking for 3 legs or pillars in a potential city: 1) Demographics; 18 to 34 year olds, 2) Restaurants and bars nearby, and 3) a Public Transportation system  to the stadium; and in addition, of course, they’d want to see a strong fan base.

Do we fit the bill?

Our demographics are good in the 18 to 34 year old strata and growing.  The envisioned stadium at the currently preferred site at the north east corner of the old rail yards will accommodate 20,000 fans and would be set up to be useful for other sports and venues.  Development plans could well included restaurants.  And, it’s long been an area with a transportation focus thanks to previous city leadership.

In terms of city size and makeup we’re most often compared to the MLS team cities of Portland (Timbers), Seattle (Sounders - an expansion team in 2007), Montreal (Impact), and Vancouver BC (Whitecaps since 1986). 

And a soccer fan base?  We've had no trouble filling the stands with rabid fans, breaking league attendance records, so no problem!

Just soccer?  No, the forward thinking Sacramento FC leadership group is also looking at future opportunities to capitalize on the wealth of sports talent in our valley; looking toward an Academy for youngsters to learn the fundamentals and a Soccer Player Development League that will develop prospects for pro teams.

Why the sudden surge of interest?  Not sudden at all really, it’s been building for 25 years or more.  When I came to Sacramento in 1985 I was impressed by the youth soccer opportunities for our children.  The Pocket area Greenhaven Soccer Club at that time was a mature organization providing soccer experiences to hundreds of elementary aged kids – I was told it was the 3rd largest soccer club in the US.  Soccer then gradually expanded into high school and college sports programs.

With our long time local interest in “the world’s sport” it’s no surprise that Sacramento now is ready for more. Our local experience is why soccer has “suddenly” blossomed to excitement about a local pro soccer team that could be coming to a new stadium near you!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What is an SRO? Their impact on Downtown

SRO, the abbreviation for Single Room Occupancy, refers to housing consisting of a single room or a studio, typically in a former hotel catering to an earlier era of travelers.  In the late 1920’s there were many small hotels in urban settings where travelers would stay when they had business in town or were visiting.

After WWII, with the rapid expansion of the ownership of automobiles and the Interstate highway system, motels became the vogue and the traveler inns became a relatively inexpensive (and luxurious) accommodation for people who wanted to live in town.  William Burg, a local historian, wrote an excellent overview of the history of our downtown hotels that became SRO’s in his piece about the closing of the Hotel Berry in the online Sacramento Press edition a few years back.

But by the 1970’s and beyond, many of these building fell into disrepair, contributing to the blight of our downtown.  Local business leaders recognize that to meet their goal of a clean and safe environment in the Downtown district, the dilapidated SRO’s needed to be cleaned up along with addressing the issues of homelessness, low income housing, mental health treatment, and crime.  And they are actively supporting efforts to tackle these problems.

The city of Sacramento partially addressed the SRO/housing issue by passing an ordinance requiring that there be a minimum of 712 SRO units in the city but unfortunately the code does not focus its affect where it should - on ensuring that the owners/operators of the SROs make the units habitable.  (This ordinance is part of the city’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.)

But the city has made some progress in addressing the housing needs of homeless and low income citizens by building and opening the 8 story affordable housing complex at 7th and H; the result of years of hard work on the part of Mercy Housing, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, and the city of Sacramento.  It contains 150 affordable housing units with on-site medical clinic and comprehensive resident services.  Each self-contained studio and one-bedroom apartment is equipped with a full bathroom and a kitchen.  Half of the 150 units are reserved for people just off the streets.

Slowly but surely, all of this activity is helping the Downtown district become a viable community for urban homeowners.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sacramento’s Community Center & Theater District, (CC&T) “the ugly, the bad and the good?” [Part two of two]

Making Urban Living more livable. 

The Community Center & Theater is currently underutilized and as the DT core gets re-invigorated, CC&T will get further out of step with the times.  Some of Sacramento’s business leaders have been considering alternatives for the CC&T.  Part one looked at the options of 1) make do and, 2) look for a new site.  This post looks at the “make over” alternative.

A MAKE OVER – SCRAPE verses SCRAP (the good?)  (Part two of two)
There are proposals being considered to “Repurpose” the existing Community Center and Theater to better meet current and emerging demand.  A Scrape verses Scrap discussion.  Why scrap (get rid of it) what we have when we can scrape (remove a layer or so) and rebuild anew?  There are (at least) three ways to go (and it’s all about the best bang for the buck, really).

THE MINIMUM.  One approach is to do the minimum by updating the interiors and addressing the ADA issues which apparently are mostly around the exterior of these properties.  But this approach will not address the current and future missing potential of improving bookings and revenues.

REFURBISH.  Another idea, a bit more assertive, is to refurbish the existing buildings, including addressing ADA issues, and add a larger exhibit space/ballroom to accommodate larger events; perhaps something dramatic like adding this grand room on top of the existing theater with great westward views of the capital and Downtown!

REBUILD/REPURPOSE. But a really aggressive, (enlightened?) approach calls for a major do-over.  Scrape off the old and build in its place a newer, multi-use facility.  The technology is out there to turn the CC&T into a state of the art center where many alternative floor plans can be created, giving the facility the ability to host several small events or one large one.  There’s nothing like this yet in the US, but Europe has several very fine examples of what can be done to make a public asset a more flexible and productive one.  Of course, newer technology comes with a price so this approach will cost more than other methods being considered and may mean that theater productions need to be relocated or eliminated during part of what is imagined to be a 3 or 4 year renovation.

There’s a lot to think about but business leaders and the Mayor’s Task Force are working on these ideas; and I hope they keep their eye on the prize(s): keeping in step with the times, improving the CC&T’s connection to Downtown and Midtown, and making urban living more livable!

NEXT UP: What’s being done about the SRO issue?  (Perhaps more than you think)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sacramento’s Community Center & Theater District, (CC&T) “the ugly, the bad and the good?” [Part one of two]

Making Urban Living more livable. 

The Community Center & Theater is underutilized and has ADA issues, especially around the exterior, AND, as the DT core gets re-invigorated, CC&T will get further out of step with the times.  Some of Sacramento’s business leaders have been looking to the future and considering alternatives.  Those alternatives at present are: 1) make do 2) look for a new site, 3) do a makeover in place.  What might be called the ugly, the bad and the good!  This blog looks at the “make do” and the “new site” options; part two will look at the “make over” alternative.

MAKE DO. (The ugly?) What’s wrong with the way it is?  Many are saying that the Community Center, (AKA the Convention Center), is just not competitive for visiting conventions and shows.  And the Theater is outdated for modern performances fitting for a region of our size.  The city may even be losing patrons to Folsom’s Harris Center for the Arts or Davis’ Mondavi Center.  And Sacramento is losing trade show business to San Jose and San Diego who have modern convention facilities.  That, plus a lack of adequate hotel room space means we are losing visitors and the revenue they generate.  Plus the locals may have a lower level of performing arts than is possible.  Yes we can make do; and continue to loose revenue and enlightenment opportunities.

A NEW LOCATON. (the bad?)
Another idea is to simply look for a new place to build a modern Community Center and Theater.  But it seems to me that the present location, virtually across from the Capital and centered between Downtown and Midtown IS the ideal location. A new site may not be the best approach what with land acquisition and building costs; plus if that new site where in the DT core it may take an opportunity away from building something else new and exciting that people would want to go to.  Another draw to our core!  Admittedly, my perspective is perhaps a bit skewed since I come from a city where the town hall was reputedly rebuilt in the 1200’s but it appears to just make more sense to me to reuse (and re purpose) what we already have.

Next up: A MAKE OVER – SCRAPE verses SCRAP (the good?)… Proposals to “Re purpose” the existing Community Center and Theater…

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Streetcars in our future? And what has that to do with DT/MT realty issues?

Downtown Sacramento business leaders have been trying to raise the awareness level of those in city hall and even some council members about the need for and benefit of a street car system that would tie West Sacramento together with Sacramento’s Downtown and perhaps (Midtown) districts and even beyond.  West Sacramento appears ready for the concept, Sacramento, not so much.  The idea is to reduce the need to build and maintain parking lots or develop parking spaces within developments.

As currently proposed (for the Sacramento side) the line would cross the Tower Bridge, then north on 3rd street, right on H street.  At 6th and 7th the line would return south to K street and at 12th Street make a loop around the blocks along 12th, L, 19th  and returning on J street west to 7th for the return trip to West Sacramento.  The coverage area now being looked at would be a starting point with later expansion perhaps connecting Broadway and the Rail yards.

Meanwhile, business leaders, and to some degree city staff, have been exploring funding methods to get a street car system built and operated that would include federal, state and local funding shares. They’re looking at options including an assessment district verses Mello-Roos, the latter would mainly affect property owners closest to the envisioned streetcar lines. Key concerns among business leaders include: the people paying the assessment should decide, not city staff; they don’t want Sac to be paying a disproportionate share; and that if the benefit doesn’t outweigh the burden then the project should not move forward.

A lot pf complex issues to work through and something of a chicken and egg problem: build a streetcar line so people will gravitate away from autos or get people downtown with new development then expand public transportation services.  Washington State’s Portland downtown development was cited as a very successful example of building the line first then the places for people to move to and live. A working group to dig into details is planned by Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

Next Up: ESC update and other news

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's planned/proposed for Capital Towers?

Are you ready for the transformation being considered for Sacramento Commons (Currently Capital Towers)?

A developer has outlined his vision of what they’d like to see at the site – a high density, residential and mixed use live/work community.  It would include mid-rise and high rise buildings bordered by 5th, 7th, N and P streets, a transit priority area, and the developer’s goal is to retain the existing park like setting with recreational facilities on top of the buildings.

They envision a 300 room hotel plus a condominium combination on the N and 7th street side of the property but if a hotel is not feasible then that area would have all owner occupied condominiums. 
The developer has plans for more than 1400 units altogether if a hotel is built or closer to 1520 without the hotel. There would be perhaps as many as 450 condos/work spaces in midrise buildings with the balance of the housing built as market rate apartments contained in two 23 story towers.

The idea is for this development to be a transit focused property and this location would be ideal for that – right on two light rail lines in the heart of downtown, bordered by 7th and 5th streets on the east and west, and N and P streets on the north and south.  They plan to retain the tree lined park-like feel of the current development and they believe they can retain the majority of the 32 heritage trees currently on the site and mitigate for those that would need to be relocated or moved.  Parking is planned with a ratio of 1 parking space for each unit.

The project is currently working its way through the city’s Design and Review process which is expected to take until he end of 2015, with public hearings expected to be scheduled in the late summer or fall

Next up: Are streetcars your desire?  ESC Groundbreaking in about 2 weeks?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

ESC: Entertainment & Sports Complex: Construction begins soon... What's the impact on the public?

ESC: Entertainment And Sports Complex: Noise/an eye on progress/Truck traffic

Will the demolition and construction that’s about to begin at the K Street Mall be as noisy and distracting as large construction projects often are?

Turner Construction and the other contractors involved in this project are taking a “3 M” approach to try to lessen the noise and dust: that's Mitigation through Means and Methods.  They have considered how they will go about working through the project (the “means”) and looked at the “methods used” to limit the noise, dust and distraction.  For example; rather than using  pile drivers they will be drilling holes in the ground to place the building support beams and will be draping sound absorbing material on the interior of the site fencing and safety barriers to help muffle the noise.  And a host of other techniques, large and small…

Want to see what’s going on?  NO texting while driving, and no rubbernecking either!  The L street perimeter will have a solid construction fence/barrier that will not permit gawking – but on a good note it has sound absorbing lining on the construction side to help dampen some of the sounds from the site. But, you’ll be able to see what is going on at the corner of L and 5th and J and 5th.  Streets.  At those corners there will be sections of chain link fencing left open without paneling  so pedestrians can see what is going on.   And inside the mall there will also be large “portals” cut into the construction barriers that will separate the remaining west end of the mall from the goings on at the building site.
And pedestrians on the surrounding streets, J, L and, 7th streets and the western end of the K street mall will find Routing Maps to guide them around the construction site.  Easily visible signs will also be posted throughout the project with a phone number to call if you have a concern about what is going on – and we've been promised a quick response to public inquires.

During demolition and construction, when a steady stream of trucks will be hauling away materials to recycling centers and later on bringing in new materials to the site - they will be staged on vacant parcels a few blocks away from the project and radioed in to the site on demand so that they do not clog up J and L streets and the freeway on and off ramps.  They've devised a route that from the north will take them from Interstate 5 to Richards Boulevard to 7th Street or from the south on Interstate 5 to Q Street and 7th Street to the staging area.

Next up: What is happening at the Capital Towers – the Sacramento Commons Project? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

It's about MUCH more than basketball!

Our Downtown rebirth begins!

ESC: Entertainment And Sports Complex: Demolition/Traffic/Parking
Remember Gottschalks?  More recently known as Macy’s Men’s store?  That part of the K Street Mall will soon to be a hole in the ground.  Plans are afoot to begin the serious demolition of the eastern 2/3rds of the K Street Mall.  Initial preparation work has begun. The wrecking ball arrives soon and we may see action there before the end of July.

There is just one catch to that timetable; the city still does not own the land (and sky above) at the old Macy’s Men’s.  The “Special Servicer” that has control of that property has not relinquished control despite the city winning their eminent domain lawsuit.  And that’s because the second phase of that suit, how much are the land/air rights worth, has not been resolved.  Yet.

The lead contractor who is building the ESC (Turner Construction) is working with the City to minimize disruption to the downtown businesses, pedestrians and traffic.  It’s a major construction site so there will be disruptions – but the contractor and city are working on a plan so that disruptions will be periodic – in waves rather than constant commotion.

Parking losses.  The public entrance to the underground parking lot at L street will be the first to be closed, probably fairly soon.  This will be followed by the lot entrance on J Street (just past 5th street) and the entrance on 7th street too.  Mall employees with monthly parking passes were notified some time ago about alternative parking sites.

Lane closures on J and L Streets?  A mini Fix 50?  Actually no.  Per the plans I’ve heard about there will be some re-shifting of lanes but J Street will continue to be 4 lanes at all times. At least one pedestrian walk will be relocated, the one at 5th and J will be moved to 6th and J.  L Street will also continue to have 3 lanes at all times.  About 13 L Street parking spaces will be eliminated for the duration of the ESC construction to make way for the lanes that will be shifted.  5th street however, will lose one lane.  This street has one of the lightest volumes of any downtown street and the lane given up will be dedicated to trucks entering and exiting the constructions site.  If you’ve headed south on 29th Street during the recent construction of Sutter Hospital’s major expansion and seen the lane shift there, then you have an idea of how it will work.

Next up: Noise/watching the progress/Truck traffic