POLL: What’s next at the downtown railyards? Readers weigh in

Once “Plan B” for a downtown arena failed to materialize, the Think Big Sacramento organization shifted gears and is now taking a broader look at possibilities for developing the more than 200 acre railyards site.

Several suggestions have already come up for the site, including:

  • Major League Baseball stadium – Several news outlets (including the New York TImes, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports) have reported that the Oakland A’s may be looking for a new home. Why not Sacramento?
  • Corporate headquarters – Now that the city has received a $15 million grant to fix up the downtown train station, Sacramento is well on its way to being a full intermodal hub, making the railyards a convenient site for commuting corporate workers and executives.
  • Entertainment district – Revitalizing downtown has long been a topic of interest at City Hall, and some say the railyards could be a big tourist draw as the newest downtown shopping and eating hotspot, despite not having an arena.
  • Medium-sized entertainment venues – A recent candidate for City Council suggested Sacramento needs more “medium-sized” venues: larger than your average nightclub, but smaller than a basketball arena. Could the railyards be the new home for an amphitheatre or two?
  • And, of course, an indoor sports arena – The idea hasn’t been completely excluded from the list. Johnson said building an arena doesn’t make economic sense without an anchor sports tenant, but that’s not to say the city and Think Big won’t still pursue one.

Jared Ficker, a spokesman for Inland Inland American Real Estate Trust, the Illinois firm that owns most of the railyards, said in a recent Sacramento Bee article that the company welcomes the help of Think Big.

“Think Big helps build community support for a project of this magnitude; they have an understanding of what the community wants,” Flicker said.

So, what does the community want?

We’ve outlined a few suggestions that were mentioned in the Bee article and that the mayor and others have brought up. What would you add? What do you think could or should be built at the raliyards site?

Take a minute to vote on the ones we’ve listed, or suggest your own ideas in the comment section, and we’ll add them to the poll as we go along.

Once we’ve incorporated all your suggestions and have a list of interesting ideas, we’ll hand-deliver them to the mayor and Think Big Executive Director Kunal Merchant.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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July 5, 2012 | 1:02 PM

How about what’s already planned –mix-use development with lots of urban housing? Why are we coming up with something different? I guess there’s lots of people around here who have not been paying attention to the Railyards Project until the recent arena proposal and so they have no clue about the long-in-the-works plan.

July 5, 2012 | 1:14 PM

Mark, the reasoning behind the poll is that the mayor himself has directed Think Big to explore options for the railyard beyond the existing plans. As Ryan Lillis at the Bee reported today:” …the mayor has shifted the focus of his Think Big arena committee to the broader downtown area. The committee will explore whether a proposal to generate cash out of the city’s downtown parking operations can be used for other projects, including other sports complexes in the railyard, an entertainment district, corporate offices or a revamped Westfield downtown plaza.” http://blogs.sacbee.com/city-beat/2012/07/mayor-johnson-arena-plan-b-wont-work-focus-will-broaden.html.” But you raise a good point, and we’ll try to incorporate it into the poll.

July 5, 2012 | 1:56 PM

The future of this area should not be painted by Home Depot, WalMart, Jamba Juice and McDonalds, as most open areas seem to fall prey to nowadays. It has a unique opportunity to transform downtown Sacramento in to a destination (think Folsom/Roseville/Davis).

July 8, 2012 | 4:39 PM

Think Folsom and Roseville? Gee, those areas *were* “painted” by Home Depot, WalMart, Jamba Juice and McDonalds, and they thrive. Perhaps attracting business is better than bashing it.

Davis, meanwhile, has a University and large numbers of University students to support it.

Avatar of jws
July 9, 2012 | 9:13 AM

I don’t think people are as anti-business as you want to believe they are. I think it’s more about what is appropriate for the site. Putting a Home Depot or Bass Pro Shop in the Railyards would be a foolish waste and make us even more of joke. Thank goodness there are people who have higher ambitions.

July 10, 2012 | 10:53 AM

Oh I didn’t even think of a WalMart, Home Depot, McDonalds combo strip mall. Now, you’re talking.

July 10, 2012 | 12:24 PM

Yes that would be transformative. People would come from miles around to visit our strip mall.

July 5, 2012 | 2:22 PM

I’m crazy, I know, but I want to see a west coast branch of a wealthy and renowned university.

In a perfect world this would also provide for some sports facilities (though maybe not pro level) and residents with disposable incomes.

July 5, 2012 | 6:58 PM

What a great concept. Sacramento is not giving the farm away but attracting a major ticket item that could greatly impact the fabric of our community. It is great concept but how do we sell it?

A major university would bring in people who would use housing, patronize restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and retail outlets, which would benefit our community. The salaries generated by university employees would strengthen our tax base. It would also benefit the arts by adding concert venues and other arts organizations. This idea could make Sacramento become a city whose motto is “why not” instead of “we can’t.”

As for the Kings, if they really want to stay in Sacramento then why isn’t this a regional discussion with the region financially supporting the endeavor instead of Sacramento residents footing the bill and taking all of the financial risks? During the 90′s Chris Webber and Vladi Divac inspired us into believing that “we can” instead of “we can’t.” We embraced our Kings and loved them. Until the Kings’ organization remembers that wonderful era, they remain an organization that says “we can’t.”

July 5, 2012 | 7:07 PM

Whether it’s a branch of another university or its own entity, a full-sized university would be great in the Railyards. I was at a USC presentation last month that talked about the enormous economic effect that their school had on the city of Los Angeles, in addition to bringing thousands of students to the city and attracting the brightest educators, drawing funds and investment for research and development and corporate sponsorship. And they have started on a plan to rehabilitate their historic stadium. A campus could potentially integrate some of the historic Shops buildings into the campus, in addition to dormitory buildings and other new construction that would probably integrate quite well into the existing Railyards plan.

July 8, 2012 | 4:42 PM

While a university is a nice idea, there isn’t a new one coming anytime soon. The state is broke and there will not be a new UC or CSU in the near future. As for private universities, the last significant one, William Jessup, went to Rocklin. And they were a Christian organization, something the wannabe hipsters of Downtown wouldn’t tolerate anyway.

July 9, 2012 | 4:44 PM

Think about Boston. Think about Silicon Valley. Think about the North Carolina research triangle. Thesea are all places where corporations want to be. And why is that? Stellar institutions of higher education. You can’t just ask a corporation to come to Sacramento and not offer it anything in return. Another university would help provide an additional influx of talent that would add nicely to UC Davis and Sacramento State. Two large universities is actually a rather small number for a metropolitan area of two million. You have to build the intellectual infrustructure of a top rate city if you want to become a top rate city. Once you have the intellectual capital, the corporations will come and with it, the tax base and sponsorship that can support a big league sports franchise. Building a University at the railyards would be a way to finally put the horse back where it belongs. In front of the cart.

July 10, 2012 | 10:19 AM

I’ve been advocating a university @ the Railyards for sometime now. I think William pointed out a few months ago that the site of proposed ESA is rather small by itself but as he points out here it could be integrated into the existing Railyards plan nicely – even be the catalyst for it. Plus you could use the ESA site and the historic depot once a new intermodal station is built. Additionally, there’s room north of Railyards for athletic facilities, labs, etc.

What a forward thinking approach. Use the money from the parking garages to help fund the start up of a downtown university/college. Now that’s Thinking Big!

July 10, 2012 | 10:55 AM

Yeah that’s what I voted for. That would be cool. Sac State is an awesome, diverse, great school with a nice campus. But Sacramento is not a college town. If it was more of a college town, things would improve all around.

July 5, 2012 | 2:59 PM

As a big fan of Sim City I’d love to see corporate headquarters popping up in the downtown – especially if they are bright and shiny energy efficient spaces. Anything that can draw the innovation generation I’m for it.

A stadium is also a pretty cool thought. There’s a great energy there, but we already have a nice stadium in West Sacramento – would we really need two within sight of each other?

July 5, 2012 | 4:26 PM

current plan of mixed use & urban medium/high density housing seems consistent with any or all of the above options ~ it’s a 10 to 20 year buildout. Get some seeds planted and continue seeking some “anchor” uses. Either it gets started and is allowed to evolve as market forces work on it, or it’s just going to site their idle & empty. Corporate headquarters will draw the sports team which will draw the arts/entertainment which will draw the housing…etc etc. All interconnected. Make one happen, the others follow.

July 5, 2012 | 4:55 PM

Thanks. We’ve added that option to the poll.

July 5, 2012 | 5:18 PM

I think there’s got to be a few “necessities” included in this area, specifically a gas station, a grocery store, and more dining options for us Downtown workers! But “thinking bigger” than that, I think it would be great to incorporate a man-made “river” throughout the project akin to the San Antonio Riverwalk. It would be a fairly easy and interesting way to incorporate our river roots and could attract all kinds of unique businesses, hotels and restaurants.

July 5, 2012 | 7:09 PM

More dining options wouldn’t require a new neighborhood–it’s as simple as figuring out a way to get more of the downtown restaurants that close at 3 PM to stay open long enough for downtown workers (and us downtown “livers”) to drop by to eat after work! (Ideally, even if we work the swing shift!)

July 5, 2012 | 8:37 PM

I added this option as a “riverwalk” in the poll.

July 5, 2012 | 8:53 PM

Shouldn’t we worry about the two rivers we already have that don’t have great pedestrian access?

July 6, 2012 | 9:01 AM

@Marc- the rivers we have here in the main part of Sacramento (ie, the area surrounding the railyards) isn’t set up for much pedestrian access– they are mostly leveed and have few access points to the water. I’m talking about a man-made riverwalk that can combine nature’s beauty like an arboretum, but with shopping, dining and residential living. It could really be a fun, upscale and magnetic draw.

Avatar of jws
July 5, 2012 | 6:14 PM

There was a canal element included in the early plans but locals with a fetish for the gridiron put the kibosh on it. Besides it did seemed a little cheesy. Don’t think gas stations are really thinking ‘big’. It should not be about catering to folks from Rose Ville or downtown workers but about ADDiNG downtown residents. Seeking corporate HQ’s seems rather 1989. Creating a branch of UC Davis would be about the smartest move we could make – drawing in and keeping young talent and engery.

July 6, 2012 | 9:12 AM

I agree wholeheartedly about the need for a UC or even a private university campus somewhere in Sacramento. I just don’t think it would be enough space in the railyards. I wouldn’t dream of wanting to “cater” to anyone other than the residents of Sacramento, but I don’t see anything cheesy about the way San Antonio turned out with their riverwalk. That’s a destination now, and the fact that we talk about it in Sacramento is testimony to it’s influence and impact.

July 6, 2012 | 11:45 AM

It’s funny that SA’s Riverwalk is always mentioned. A few cities like OC, Providence and Indianapolis have all tried to create their own versions of it with varying degrees of success. But all of these were created from existing creeks, rivers or canals. Not that it’s a bad idea, and as was mention that was proposed many years ago, but creating a false canal is something entirely different. But we aren’t even talking about the Railyards -rather a very small bit of land between the railroad tracks, freeway, and the depot.

As for catering to non-residences. Of course, a city must cater to tourists, commuters and residences but it is common practice to start out thinking about the former when it’s best to start with the later.

July 6, 2012 | 12:29 PM

San Antonio’s Riverwalk is nice, but it’s a very different sort of river–mostly 50 feet wide and not subject to flooding (due to a diversion channel and a series of dams) and started nearly 70 years ago as part of a WPA project. Trying to duplicate it with our 700 foot wide, flood-prone Sacramento River seems kind of silly–we have an opportunity to do something that reflects who we are, rather than use a very different sort of river as a model for our own.

July 8, 2012 | 9:27 AM

I totally agree William. But we will need to first understand what makes places like SA’s Riverwalk such a success. That’s the problem. People go to these places and come back and say “Hey why don’t we do the same here?” –w/o any real examination of situation. The Sacramento, like many rivers fluctuates considerably and during especially wet years can get pretty high. This means anything we build along it must be built high enough to remain safe or be able to rise with the waters. The appeal of SA’s Riverwalk (and all waterfronts) is that people can get close to the water. This is difficult to do here- but not impossible -and we have really not made much of an attempt.

One thing we could do is build a lower walkway- that will stand up to the annual flooding -below the existing Riverfront Promenade so that people can get closer to the river’s edge -as they have done along the Seine in Paris. Another thing we could do is build a ghat -concrete steps down to the river.

It will also help when West Sacramento builds up their riverfront district and we’ll have something to look at. If West Sacramento would rebuild the portion of their riverfront -that sits directly across from Old Sacramento with waterfront restaurants and boat docks – instead of it all being parked –then it would really improve the appeal of the riverfront.

July 5, 2012 | 6:15 PM

If Think Big are going to be deciding what to do with public funds, should they not be holding public meetings?

July 5, 2012 | 9:16 PM

We’ll pose that question to Think Big Executive Director Kunal Merchant Look for the answer next week (unless he comments here first). Thanks for the input.

July 5, 2012 | 8:57 PM

No offense – but articles like this are sorta silly. What magical list of things that will probably never happen should we vote on!? ….

July 5, 2012 | 11:24 PM

Well, Think Big are thinking they can borrow 250 M and they want to do something with it. Which is OK, so long as we the citizens of Sacramento are fine with using money borrowed against our parking this way. That’s how democracy works. But it doesn’t work when a small group of (mostly white men) decide on how to spend the public money behind closed doors. So Sac Press is doing us a service no-one else is willing to do: actually asking us what we want.

July 6, 2012 | 8:54 AM

I see an inherent value in public discourse about issues that will affect everyone, and we at Sac Press will do our part to make sure the questions and suggestions raised here reach the people that will have a more direct role in the decision making process. Exercises like this can help to air out ideas and questions that might not have otherwise received attention or exposure. With an issue as big as this one, with so many factor and actors, it’s hard to say what or who will influence what will actually take shape, but it’s part of our role to serve as a platform for ideas and discussion, and it’s within the realm of possibility that something suggested here will catch someone’s imagination and end up influencing the public debate. Even if that should end up not being the case, what we have here is a civilized and informative discussion about a civic issue. If that’s silly then so be it. There are far worse things. (Note: I added “magical list of things that will probably never happen” to the poll.)

July 6, 2012 | 11:18 AM

Guys maybe you should look at the existing plans for the Railyards. It includes access to river, entertainment, shops, restaurants, housing, etc. The Railyards Project Area is mostly privately-owned. The proposed arena site is only a small fraction of city-owned land between the Railyards and the depot. What the City does with this little bit of land is we need to concern ourselves with. The site isn’t really big enough for a university campus (nowhere to expand) or SA-like canals. It’s barely big enough for a ESA. We could give the land away to entice a Fortune 500 corporation to move their HQ here but I seriously doubt that would happen.

Since we are talking ‘magical thinking’ why not give the land to an Indian tribe if they will build a casino, hotel and skytower ala Auckland’s Skycity? That casino provides their city with almost 2000 jobs and has given back millions of dollars since it was built in the late 1990′s. A casino would not exactly be out of character with Old Sacramento and a tall free-standing observation and telecommunications tower would give the Sacramento skyline the icon many think it needs. Plus I can’t think of better way to thumb our nose at the Maloofs.

I know there’s people who object to casinos on principle and as a non-gambler myself I understand that but then there’s the reality that everyday people go off to the Thunder Valley, Cache Creek or Reno so why shouldn’t we bring some of that money here?

July 6, 2012 | 12:27 PM

Another advantage of the existing plan is that it is already ready to go–all the environmental review and council/commission review is already done. Abandoning it means going back to the drawing board, more time and money spent on review. Most of the alternatives mentioned above, like a college campus, mixed-use neighborhood, corporate headquarters, entertainment/shopping district, and plans for “riverwalk” areas are quite feasible using the existing and approved plan rather than having to toss everything and delay several years (and who knows how many dollars) by starting from zero.

Sometimes it’s time to stop “visioning” and start doing!

July 6, 2012 | 12:43 PM

Mark, we’ll add that option as a “Casino” in the poll. We’ll do follow-ups pieces on the suggestions that get the most votes and generate the most thoughtful discussion. That seems like a good candidate.

July 8, 2012 | 9:15 AM

@ William -Exactly!

Avatar of jws
July 9, 2012 | 9:23 AM

Let’s go with the very good plan we already have. If we want to use ‘parking garage money’ on anything how about making improvements to the existing core that will get the owners of the Railyards moving on developing it as planned. One thing we could do is buy the Westfield Plaza (at a discounted price since it’s in such poor shape) and de-mall it — open it up and make it look like a real street again (san the cars) and add housing – something like San Jose’s Santna Row.

July 10, 2012 | 10:26 AM

Another good idea- though not directly related to the Railyards/ESA site. Westfield Downtown Plaza is a hinderance to downtown moving forward and needs to be dealt with. Replacing the suburban mall model with something that is more appropriate to downtown is vital.

July 10, 2012 | 9:32 AM

Some kind of museum – my old home town had a Photography and Television museum with the World’s first IMAX. People came from far and wide etc. etc.


Aquariums are nice too.

July 10, 2012 | 10:54 AM

What would I want? Hmm, that’s a tough one. A new basketball (and multi-use)arena would be freaking great. I’m not even a Kings fan, but I would love for them to stay in Sacramento and play in a brand new arena. I also think building some cultural-type buildings such as an amphitheater, museum (to house what, I don’t know), artsy garden, etc, would help Sacramento, and the region, develop a reputation as more of a center of arts and culture. Whatever is built, I hope it adds to Sacramento’s, and the region’s, local, statewide, national, and international appeal as a destination city. Sacramento has such potential to be a great city; it’s the capitol of the most innovative, rich, diverse, and largest state in the Union. California’s capitol city should be known more for housing the state’s dysfunctional legislature. I don’t care about Sacramento trying to compete with San Francisco or Los Angeles; Sacramento will never those cities. I’d like Sacramento to be more like Portland or Denver. I’ve been to both and they remind me a little of Sacramento, and how much better it could be (culturally, entertainment, sports, music, etc.). Developing the rail yards, and extending light rail to the airport, would go a long way toward making downtown a destination/hub for locals and out-of-towners. I wish, in addition to developing the rail yards, certain blocks of downtown could be revitalized as there are blocks of vacant, blighted buildings that could be put to great use.

July 10, 2012 | 12:30 PM

Jason are you familiar with the existing (pre-Kevin Johnson/Think Big) plans for the Railyards?

July 10, 2012 | 10:54 AM

Why Not Make a MLS team? We have a great size market for that kind of Entertainment. It won’t compete with Current Venues, and the Stadium could start off much smaller and then grow. These types of venues would be great to bring other Entertainment as well Such as The international Rugby Tournaments, Considering Northern Californian Collegiate Rugby is some of the best we could definitively entice Events or Build our own, Not to mention the Professional Rugby Teams in Sacramento could also Use the stadium to help them grown as well. The 2 sports have a rapidly growing support base with the younger generations embracing the sports more and more and if we Look at the long term it could become a much bigger venue in the Future with much larger Revenues coming in. Not to mention this type of Stadium would not nullify the Current contract the Maloof’s have thus forcing them to continue paying for Arco Arena.

July 10, 2012 | 10:59 AM

And this would be an instant Venue for the Great California Youth Rugby Leagues, and Youth Soccer leagues to play their tournaments in. And if not in the Rail-yards why not Reconsider Developing a sports complex in Natomas along with the Renovation of Arco? This would enable the Development of a river-walk/shopping area, along with the Revitalization of The downtown westfield and capitalize on the infrastructure already in place in Natomas like the many restaurants and the parking already in place. Thus we could help 2 areas of our city at once.

July 10, 2012 | 12:40 PM

There is certainty enough room at the Natomas site to add playing fields. When all the talk about building a new sports arena started I advocated for CalExpo but since the old folks there could Not grasp the future I supported keeping the arena in Natomas and renovating it. When the Kings move to OC next year we will have to figure out what to do with the arena. Your ideas are a start.

February 4, 2013 | 6:14 PM

So what’s the latest on this topic? If the Kings stay and build the arena at the downtown plaza, mix-use development with urban housing sounds great. My only hope is that we go BIG on this and not do something halfass. This needs to put Sactown on the map. I envision something like San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Must have some canals, marina, gondolas, museums, state of the art science museum that puts SF’s Exploratorium to shame, small park areas, restaurants, high-rise condos, restaurants, outdoor cafes, something for the kids ie. huge kid-friendly fountain, recreation areas, a few beach areas on the canals, beach volleyball, walking trails, outdoor venders, muscle beach, etc. etc. Needs to be a “must see” destination!!

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