City aims to rebrand district into biotech hub

rlillis@sacbee.comDecember 21, 2013 

SACRAMENTO

The triangle-shaped neighborhood along Power Inn Road south of Highway 50 in Sacramento is a collection of old warehouses, long-haul trucking companies and empty lots. It’s not exactly Torrey Pines or the Stanford Research Park.

But city officials said they have set into motion a plan to create a biotech and research hub in the area, which sits just south of the campus for California State University, Sacramento. The ambitious goal is to create a district similar to research parks found near university campuses elsewhere in California.

It’s a long-term vision, likely to develop over the next decade or longer as transportation and infrastructure improvements are made. But the process received a big boost earlier this month when the City Council voted to rezone the area from heavy industrial to a manufacturing, research and development zone.

That change will allow for the construction of office space, retail and perhaps housing, with a special permit, said Remi Mendoza, an associate planner with the city. More than 100 parcels of land were rezoned by the council decision.

The key next step is the extension of a side street in the neighborhood, Ramona Avenue, to connect the area directly to Folsom Boulevard, close to Sacramento State’s south entrance. The $10.6 million street extension project – funded by a mix of Measure A transportation money, state and federal funding – will likely begin next year.

“Everything is coming together,” said Councilman Kevin McCarty, who represents the area. “The economic potential for this area is significant.”

City planners want to attract firms that are hoping to connect with engineering programs at Sacramento State and with energy efficiency projects led by SMUD, which has a headquarters a half-mile away. Companies may also be interested in having a presence within proximity of the UC Davis Medical Center.

“Right now, that area is a hodgepodge of businesses,” said Tom Pace, a long range planner with the city. “The idea is to take that area and create an identity.”

Sacramento State is seen as a vital partner in the effort. The university owns 25 of the 60 acres most likely to be developed, including the site of a former California Youth Authority facility that has been torn down. University officials have voiced their support for the work.

Mike Lee, the vice president for administration and chief financial officer at Sacramento State, said the university plans to issue a request for ideas from developers who are interested in the land the school owns. Sacramento State is particularly interested in clean technology and renewable energy firms that would form connections with programs at the university.

“We’d like to create that whole area into a vibrant community that has research, offices and perhaps some people living there,” he said. “I see a very strong desire to really turn that whole area into a vibrant high-tech and clean-tech area.”

Jerry Vorpahl, executive director of the Power Inn Alliance, said the area slated for redevelopment was first settled in the 1800s, when it was called Brighton.

At the time, it was promoted as “the new Pasadena of California” in the hopes that it would become a center for growing citrus fruit. That idea failed to take off.

Fast forward to about six years ago, when a task force was formed to come up with ideas to rebrand the area. Out of those meetings came a short-lived name for the district – the Regional Innovation and Technology Zone, or RITZ – but the blueprint for the area stuck.

“We’re an industrial area and we thought we’d take a look at the whole thing and see how we could enhance it,” Vorpahl said. “We see it as transformational. There’s going to be a lot of local investment.”

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.

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