The first riders of what would come to be named the Cool Projects Bike Tour actually utilized a bus when founders John Hodgson and Robert Chase showed officials from Henderson, Nev., some local infill projects in mid-2009.
The idea of building upon this first tour and getting a regular group together to see Midtown Sacramento’s building craze up close was intriguing. And there seemed to be a lot of interest from like-minded associates within the local building industry. So, when that idea became reality, bikes — instead of a bus — were the chosen mode of transportation for about 20 riders who set out on that first grueling 16-stop trek in September 2009. The group viewed several projects at the R Street Corridor and finished with lunch at Hot Italian.
“Riding our bikes made sense,” says Hodgson, a city planner at the time. “We thought we were seeing some pretty cool stuff, so that’s where the name came in.”
Ten years later, as a Midtown renaissance has morphed into a downtown building boom around the Golden 1 Center, Cool Projects Bike Tour riders have enjoyed a front row bicycle seat to it three to four times a year. Including this year’s scheduled first ride April 28, the group — open to anyone, and free — has now clocked in a total 30 days of riding, and looked at around 130 projects. During last year’s final ride in October, the group grew to the almost 75 bicyclists, who rode to the new Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, Amtrak train station and Sacramento Kings offices in Downtown Commons.
The original group was founded by Hodgson and Chase, who is now retired as a deputy state architect. The next year, Dean O’Brien (of Cal-Mortgage Loan Insurance Program) and Timothy Denham (principal in charge of urban planning at Wood Rodgers) joined as organizers. Patrick Stelmach (of Turton Commercial Real Estate) and Verna Sulpizio (of Visit Sacramento) later formed the core that rides into 2018.
“Mostly we were simply curious, but it was a great opportunity to ask the builder or architect questions about the challenges faced, the successes enjoyed and learn more about the ‘cool’ projects that were starting to happen in the downtown/Midtown area,” Chase says.
The founders originally met through Urban Land Institute, a professional association that includes a mix of people involved with the real estate industry, such as builders, architects, urban planners,and land use attorneys.
“ULI was the link,” says O’Brien, a past president who currently serves on the American River Parkway Foundation board of directors. “Cool infill projects kept popping up and we were all able to leverage our personal and ULI contacts to get sneak peaks and early access to projects across the grid, and on the other side of the river.”
As Sacramento became more friendly toward bicyclists, it was really an easy call which way the group would go.
“We ride bikes because it is a very convenient way to get between the four or five sites we arrange to visit,” Denham says. “Sacramento is flat so it is easy to pedal around.”
Because the group’s priority is to get an early look at cutting-edge projects making the news, riders have watched almost every bolt of the R Street Corridor go up, seen the views from the deck of the Midtown housing development 20 PQR before it was finished, taken West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon on a ride and have toured the Ice Blocks development on several occasions.
They’ve also taken several “theme” rides, including alley houses, hidden gems, rooftop gardens, murals and areas outside the grid, such as East Sacramento, Tahoe Park and Oak Park.
Acquiring key personnel to be available when the group arrives generally isn’t a problem. “Very few architects don’t want to show off their projects,” Hodgson says.
Last fall, for example, the group was met outside the Sacramento Kings’ new executive offices by two senior vice presidents with the team, Jeff Dorso and Randy Koss. This year’s rides begin Saturday, April 28 with a special tour honoring late developer Ali Youssefi, who died March 10 of cancer at age 35. The group is set to visit eight of his innovative projects, including The Ridgeway, Globe Mills, and Warehouse Artist Lofts.
Several other ideas are being considered for this year, including a “raspberry tour” of projects that may not have turned out so well, and a tour of sites featured in the Sacramento-based award-winning movie “Lady Bird.”
“I think one of the reasons we’ve had longevity is there are six of us currently who help organize the tours so nobody gets too burnt out,” Hodgson says. “Another reason is there has been so much activity in Midtown and downtown Sacramento that we’ve always had plenty of places to visit. “