Sacramento's Big Opportunity Needs A Cautious Approach

Plans are moving forward to redevelop a massive railyard site near downtown Sacramento. It could be a major boon for the city, but as California Planning and Development Report's Paul Shigley writes, the city should moved ahead cautiously.

"The project might be exactly what Sacramento needs to ditch its cow town image. For years, city officials have longed for redevelopment of the Union Pacific rail yards - the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad. And why not? Wedged between downtown and the American and Sacramento rivers, the site is potentially one of the great urban infill locations in the United States."

"With any such opportunity, progress is slow. Union Pacific has not always been a willing partner. Nearly four years ago, our Morris Newman wrote about a different developer's run at the site. In 2006, voters reject an ill-defined, sales-tax-funded basketball arena project on the site. In the meantime, the housing market shot to the sky and then fell to earth."

"There is no doubt the plan is ambitious. It calls for up to 12,000 residential units, more than 1 million square feet of retail space, multiple office towers and hotels, a cultural district surrounding new railroad museums, waterfront development on the Sacramento River, and a multi-modal transit center. The vision is of urbanity."

"But there are reasons for concern:"

"At 240 acres, the site is enormous. Great cities typically are built one block at a time, not with sweeping strokes by a master developer."

"The up-front infrastructure costs are equally enormous (at least $740 million) and funding is uncertain. The plan counts on $150 million from the state's 2006 housing bond, which appears overly optimistic."

Full Story: A Cow Town's Big Opportunity

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