One of the latest high-dollar projects downtown for the City of Sacramento is a surreal sight on a sunny September morning.
Inside the $100 million project, the Community Center Theater in Sacramento is a shell of its former self. All the seats in the roughly 2,200-capacity theater have been cleared out, the floor stripped down to uneven, sloping dirt. The dressing rooms backstage no longer exist. In the front lobby, the grand staircase remains; otherwise, it’s pretty much a concrete hull. In time, the lobby will extend all the way to L and 13th streets, with glass frontage and additional space for vendors selling food during shows.
Nearby, a $245 million effort to rebuild the Sacramento Convention Center is underway. On this particular morning, half of the facility has been reduced almost entirely to rubble, with the front sign being pulverized out of existence and scraps of metal sorted for reuse to help the new building achieve LEED Silver certification.
The City of Sacramento sold more than $300 million in bonds, repayable over 30 years, to cover the costs of these two projects, as well as improvements to Memorial Auditorium. Sacramento officials are among a group of regional leaders banking that the trouble and expense are worth it, that improved facilities can host more events, drawing in visitors and boosting the average number of nights stayed in nearby hotels.
Comstock’s has written about these sorts of efforts before (“Convention Center is Key to the Next-Gen Economy” in May 2019 and “Placer County Fairgrounds Gets a Facelift” in December 2017), in their more formative stages. The impending completion of the theater and the convention center in Sacramento, as well as a $48 million series of projects at the former Placer County Fairgrounds in Roseville, will offer a litmus test on whether the big investments pay off.
The work at the Sacramento Convention Center, slated to reopen in November 2020, is being done to modernize the side of the building that was constructed in the 1970s, says Fran Halbakken, project executive and assistant city manager. “It was harder to rent the side that was built earlier,” Halbakken says. “These exhibit halls, they keep getting bigger and bigger exhibits and stuff, so we really needed to modernize it.” The City also wants to capitalize on a growing market, with business events generating more than $1 trillion for the global economy.
Mark Voreyer, general manager for the center, says the exhibit hall will increase from 130,000 to 160,000 square feet of space. “For Sacramento,” he says, “that’ll put us in a whole other different market of potential conventioneers.”
The first phase of work in Roseville in 2017 included the renovation of two aging halls at the fairgrounds and a rebrand of the overall facilities to @the Grounds. The renovated structures have been a bustle of activity, including a benefit concert for fire victims and Roseville 2019, an annual event hosted by the Roseville Chamber of Commerce.
Work is underway on the approximately $34 million Placer Valley Event Center, the biggest project for @the Grounds. And the 160,000-square-foot youth sports complex, which will feature up to 12 basketball courts and 24 volleyball courts, is on track to open early next year.
David Attaway, CEO of Placer Valley Tourism and @the Grounds, is confident all the efforts will be worth the $2.1 million annual debt obligation local hoteliers are paying in the form of a $6.50 per night room fee. “Oh God, yes,” Attaway says. “Just what we’re doing right now and what we’re scheduling, it will exceed what I’m projecting by year four. We’ve only scratched the surface of people to come in here.”
Attaway, who represents large hotel operators, projects another 25,000-28,000 nights annually with the completion of @the Grounds, with these tourists likely spending money at local restaurants and businesses.
“When we were looking at models, none of (them are) on the West Coast,” Attaway says. “The one that’s closest to this facility is in Georgia, outside of Atlanta, with another in Myrtle Beach (South Carolina). There’s a few in Texas, maybe one sprinkled outside the Denver area.”
Kim Summers, marketing director for @the Grounds, promises big things with the athletic and events complex. “There really isn’t another venue like this,” Summers says. “It’s a game-changer not only for Northern California, but it’s really a game-changer for the West Coast, really, truly.”
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