As the first Property and Business Improvement District in California, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership has done much more than create the model. In 14 years of operation, it has also set the standard.
“In 1996, we started with clean and safe being our focus. We wanted people to come to downtown, have a great experience and want to come back,” says Michael Ault, the Partnership’s executive director.
One of the ways that effort took shape was the Community Service Guides, a staff of about two dozen who are the eyes and ears of the district as well as mobile concierges to residents and visitors. They’re trained on cultural amenities and attractions, so they can recommend a good place to eat, shop or catch a show. At the same time, they play a critical role in public safety with direct radios to law enforcement and code enforcement. They spot the graffiti or litter, they provide directions to the lost and, while they may be the eyes and ears of the district, they’re also the face and voice of the city.
“For my business, the guides and the overall clean and safe approach of the district have made my patrons feel more comfortable coming downtown to see a show or to book the theater for an event,” says Sid Garcia-Heberger, who’s owned the Crest Theatre on K Street since 1988.
A key element of the clean and safe program was addressing the problem of homelessness downtown. Similar to the guide program, the Partnership has sent “navigators” to the community to help the homeless and meet the Partnership’s goals for public safety.
“The Partnership has been very forward looking in this area, working with the police and Sutter Health to get people productively off the street rather than just push them along,” says Lloyd Harvego, chairman of Harvego Enterprises and past chair of the Partnership’s board. “They get people into counseling, help them find places to stay and help them get what they need to get back on their feet.”
While the Partnership’s clean and safe programs are ongoing, Ault says the Partnership’s focus has evolved over the years, moving initially into economic development and destination marketing. Downtown has several attractions such as Old Sacramento, the Sacramento Convention Center and its arts and theater facilities, but its true bread and butter is the more than 10 million square feet of Class-A office space.
Doing what it can to attract and keep office tenants has been a priority, but it has been applied in balance. One thing Ault says they’ve learned in recent years is that people want to live in an urban setting and walk to work, dinner and shopping. This means the Partnership has used some of its time and energy to meet needs for mixed-use development, hospitality and residential projects.
More recently, advocacy on the legislative and policy issues affecting downtown owners and businesses has come to the forefront of the Partnership’s activities. In some ways, that’s what the Partnership’s original founders envisioned.
“From my perspective, the Partnership has been a real benefit, if for no other reason than for solidifying one voice for downtown from a political advocacy standpoint,” says David Taylor of David S. Taylor Interests Inc., a downtown developer and one of the Partnership’s first chairs.
Harvego agrees, saying the Partnership has provided a focal point for the business community to take a serious look at strategic and redevelopment plans with an eye toward what will be in the best interests of downtown.
“That doesn’t mean we’re always in agreement,” Harvego says, “but this organization has been successful because it’s been able to get issues on the table, work through them and come up with a unified perspective on them.”
As to the keys to the Partnership’s ongoing success — its most recent renewal was for 10 years as opposed to the customary five, and it passed with 92 percent of the vote — staff, business owners and property owners all point to the same common denominators.
“It’s contagious work,” says Ault, who also credits his staff. “I’ve formed the most meaningful relationships through my work in this community, and I’ve grown to embrace the sense of pride property owners have for this unique place. It’s about much more than clean and safe and marketing downtown. It’s a true belief in creating a special urban center. It’s easy to get engrossed in that.”
Kipp Blewett, 46, is a principal partner and co-founder of Rubicon Partners Inc. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.
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