Pretty soon, the next phase of life for the Sacramento River waterfront could become evident — with help from the public needed to make it happen.
In recent years, Comstock’s has reported on long-standing efforts to revitalize the waterfront area (“Turning Toward the River,” May 5, 2017, and “What’s With Sacramento’s Lack of Waterfront Dining?,” Aug. 8, 2016). Both Sacramento and West Sacramento officials have wanted to add more business and recreational attractions, housing and other uses along the Sacramento River.
The Waterfront Idea Makers contest that the City of Sacramento commissioned to breathe new life into its riverfront enters a critical stretch this month. First, ideas were due March 11 from five different design teams the City has handpicked. On March 13, the City will host an open house at the Hall, Luhrs & Co. building in Old Sacramento to showcase the design teams’ work and submissions from the public and kids.
Waterfront Idea Makers Open House
Pop-up gallery with designs on display
5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 13
Hall, Luhrs & Co. building at 914 Second Street in Old Sacramento
The public may vote on the submissions through late March; the winner of the open competition will receive $1,000, and the winner among the five design teams for the People’s Choice Award will receive $5,000. Using recommendations from City staff, the Sacramento City Council will vote on which projects (if any) to implement.
“This is all the initiative of the mayor, who said we want to redevelop our waterfront into a regional destination,” says Sacramento Railyards and Riverfront Project Manager Richard Rich. “As a staff, we’ve taken that challenge and said, perhaps regional, even a national destination.”
Once considered the worst slum west of Chicago according to local lore, the modern version of Old Sac was essentially formed when construction of Interstate-5 was rerouted just enough to spare some of the old buildings (and allow reconstruction of others). But while local leaders like Rich think Old Sacramento is already an important asset, the area still has room for improvement.
“What it needs is to be sort of polished, sort of moved forward in terms of its presentation of the stories that we have as a region,” Rich says. “It’s very likely that many of the [recommendations] will have to do with how to increase the ambience and public participation events.”
The City has also given the designers direction in terms of the historic neighborhood’s ingress and egress. “One of the things that we’ve asked the designers [to] look at is how can we make the approaches to Old Sacramento … really more part of the story, so that when you arrive in Old Sacramento, you have transitioned from, say, downtown through a passage that tells you you’re not in Kansas anymore,” Rich says.
The five design teams vying in the nonpublic portion of the competition are Atlas Lab; Stantec; Perkins Eastman; The Hettema Group; and the LPA Design Studios, Hargreaves Associates and RSM Design team.
“I think what we’re going to find is Sacramento will take bits and pieces from the different proposals and act,” says Marq Truscott, chair of the Sacramento chapter of the Urban Land Institute and a member of the Atlas team. “I’m guessing that all the teams are going to have some really good thoughts and concepts — moves, if you will — that are really far-reaching and very far out. As a designer, we always dream about this happening.”
Others will be watching closely to see what happens, such as West Sacramento Economic Development Manager and Housing Manager Katy Jacobson, who says her city didn’t have resources to help Sacramento run the competition. But Jacobson and her colleagues are looking for ways to continue redeveloping their side of the river, with Jacobson saying the Bridge District is entitled for 9.5 million square feet of mixed use and urban-scale mid- to high-rise development.
Other ventures could be brewing as well, Jacobson notes. “One of the ideas that is floating around — and I think both cities are interested in sort of reinvigorating — is there was a joint riverfront master plan adopted by the City [of West Sacramento] some years ago … and there was a regular standing committee that was meeting from both cities to advance that,” she says.
Numerous factors hold both sides of the river back, Rich and Jacobson say, including market factors, the price of labor and I-5 cordoning Old Sacramento from downtown. Development plans are also proceeding without the planned streetcar project, which Jacobson says was put on pause about a month ago after bids came in $70 million over budget.
But Jacobson and Rich are both hopeful for what the future holds for the waterfront. Speaking on what the waterfront could be five years from now, Rich says, “I’m absolutely optimistic that we will have taken a sort of forgotten piece of town, the Old Sacramento waterfront, and turned it back into a regional economic development asset that everybody that visits Sacramento will have to go see.”