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The Sacramento City Council agreed to fund a $150,000 study of downtown's infrastructure Tuesday night.
The purpose is to collect up-to-date information about the core's aging and sometimes outdated infrastructure and identify improvements needed to eliminate obstacles to the kind of infill development outlined in the city's 2030 General Plan and the Downtown Activation Strategy. It was adopted by the council in January.
The study is needed to make sure downtown is primed for the development and investment that's expected as the economy picks up. The data also will help the city apply for state and federal funding. An R Street infrastructure study done years ago has been used to get funding and begin infrastructure work to encourage development there, said Sheri Smith, senior project manager with the Economic Development Department.
"When you have some downtime and in a down economy, it's a good time to prepare yourself for the future," Smith said. "Right now is the time to do the study. Then it becomes a really useful tool for potential projects as the uptick happens."
The need for infrastructure upgrades can turn out to be a costly obstacle to redevelopment. Detailed, current data is crucial to developers in the early stages of planning and financing, especially for projects in downtown Sacramento. Getting financing is easier if developers know what kind of infrastructure work is needed in advance.
"Most development projects don't know that until (further) down the line," she said. "If it's a big enough ticket item, it could kill a project."
For instance, the cost of adding a transformer for a downtown building — sometimes required by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District — is $500,000 to $1 million. Recent downtown projects such as the 800 J Lofts and light rail additions have uncovered a "spaghetti" of different pipes and other utility services. Some infrastructure wasn’t expected, and others were missing, City Councilman Ray Tretheway said earlier Tuesday.
"Downtown's pretty old. So some of our infrastructure is extremely outdated," said Tretheway, whose district includes part of downtown. "The surprises are very expensive. This will be a real asset to anybody who's considering reinvesting in downtown. We can show them up front what we have for them in the way of services and what we don't have for them."
The council agreed to have Nolte Associates, Inc., determine the condition and capacity of existing sewer, water, electrical and telecommunications systems, as well as streetscape and historic infrastructure for the area from I to N streets and from Third to 15th streets.
While some of downtown's water and sewer pipes have been replaced recently, a significant amount is at least 80 years old, according to the utilities department.
Streetscape needs, which include streets, sidewalks and alleys, and historic infrastructure including buildings and underground sidewalks, would also be mapped so developers can know how they might impact certain projects. H Street won't be included to keep the study cost down.
The company's analysis will include expected costs and priorities for scheduling upgrades.
Five companies submitted bids to handle the study. A committee made up of staff from the Economic Development Department, Community Development Department and the Department of Utilities chose Nolte, which performed an R Street infrastructure study for the Capitol Area Development Authority.
Funding will come from the Community Development Department's Shovel Ready Sites Program as part of the Downtown Activation Strategy. The council approved funds for that project last October.
Nolte is expected to begin the study immediately and be completed by spring 2011.
Photo Credits: Aerial photo by Eric Whalen. Sacramento night scene by Kati Garner. K Street infrastructure work photo by Suzanne Hurt, a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.