Downtown Sac

Evolving Downtown Takes a Village and Vision

Austin Kloch

Downtown is ripe with potential. I see it when there’s live music in Old Sac, groups of friends in line at the bars, coworkers eating lunch and hanging out in Cesar Chavez Plaza, and at festivals on Capitol Mall. During these moments — people build core memories downtown, they recognize its magic, and imagine their lives living on the grid.

It can be hard to see downtown as a magical place because these moments full of potential happen during coordinated events. Day-to-day there are less people on the streets because many people work from home. Businesses are fighting to perform how they did in the before times (pre-pandemic), and there’s less-than-preferred behavior on the streets. We recognize and are currently working on fixing these things.

But there’s only so much you can do when you’re constantly putting band-aids on problems you need surgery for. We’re chained to the rhythm of the status quo. If we’re going to break the chains, we have to think big.

So, we collaborated with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to put together a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP). Translation: a network of third-party, real estate and land-use experts who have recommended what needs to be done to evolve downtown. Case studies show that their ideas have worked elsewhere, and the TAP recommendations lay out how we make them happen in Sacramento.

When I say, “think big,” I mean projects that would fundamentally transform downtown. I’ll point out some of my favorite ideas from the report.

 

Revival of the ‘Third Place’

Downtown is not what it used to be, and I say that in a good way. Coming downtown used to be exclusively tied to coming to work. Now when we go downtown, it’s usually because of a concert or event. That’s great, but we need some more permanent places to hang out and have fun that aren’t work, school, or home. What happened to third places?

Capitol Mall could be THE place. Imagine if it had more of a park feel, somewhere you can picnic and bask in the sun. My favorite idea in this report is making Cap Mall a “grand park.” Think Golden Gate Park on a smaller scale. I know we love our cars and efficiency, but we need space to play. Can we say farewell to the streets to make room for more grass? I think so.

Just south of the Mall, there’s a great spot to cap the interstate and directly reconnect downtown to the waterfront. Like, literally build over the freeway and add a park and/or amphitheater. I know that sounds crazy, but Austin, Atlanta, Dallas, and Philly are doing it, why can’t we?

 

The Education Connection

I went to a university that was integrated with the city around it. It was more than a place to sit in class, I got to experience the cultures of the city around me. A traditional campus leaves no room to return. If your campus was the city, you could revisit without feeling like a townie.

I think downtown Sac is the perfect place for a college campus and the ULI TAP thought so too. It’s walkable, has access to public transportation, and we have buildings begging to be adapted to classrooms and lecture halls.

We’ve also been having the conversation on how to liven up K Street for decades. I can already picture the student population breathing life into the corridor. All that college energy could finally give K Street that je ne se quoi that’s been waiting to come out.

Photo: Charlie Leight/Arizona State University

 

Home is Where the _____ is

Downtown already has most of the necessary ingredients for a great neighborhood. It’s super walkable, there are tons of places to eat, bars to party in, and so many unique things to do.

But we need 1. More housing units, obviously, and 2. A grocery store. That’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation; it can be hard to get a vital amenity like a grocery store without loads of residents to support it, and housing can be a hard sell without vital amenities for residents.

As we know – California is in a housing crisis. We need more housing of all types, for all types: more affordable, more single family, more luxury to accommodate demand. We can build dense down here. Downtown zoning laws make building denser housing easier than in other parts of the city. So, the way I see it – if you build it, they really will come.

The TAP specifically recommends we focus on “the missing middle” ie. the people who are “too rich” for affordable housing and “too poor” for luxury housing. If there are more apartments downtown, the cost of rent will go down, and the cost of living here will become more attainable.

 

This is just the beginning…

We (Downtown Sac Partnership) want to make these big ideas a reality so badly. It’s the purpose behind everything we do. It’s why we keep downtown clean and safe, to make people comfortable. It’s why we host events, to bring people here who want to have fun. It’s why we’re a resource to businesses, to prove downtown is a fruitful and viable community where you can build a life! We think about the future of downtown with every move we make.

These ideas take years to get right, if not decades. While it may take time to get the ball rolling – we won’t stop advocating for movement.

Now that you understand more, we want you on our team. You can read the full list of recommendations here. There’s a lot more to get into that I didn’t touch on…like funding. It’s pretty technical, but I definitely recommend the read.