Editorials: Arena not the only action on K Street

July 5, 2014 Updated 23 hours ago

A photo montage showing the south side of the 700 block of K Street in Sacramento in 2004.

JOHN DECKER — The Sacramento Bee

In and around Sacramento’s K Street, the prospect of a new downtown arena has captured the bulk of attention. But much more is happening – and should be happening.

This “boulevard of aspirations,” as local historian William Burg aptly describes K Street, has gone through several permutations in the life of the city.

The wrecking ball will begin swinging at the end of the month in the 500 and 600 blocks of K Street. Downtown Plaza will make way for a new 17,500-seat multi-use entertainment and sports center.

Perhaps equally important but overshadowed, a promising project in the long-blighted 700 block that was stopped last year by the state Department of Finance – a casualty of the 2011 law that ended redevelopment agencies – has won new life.

The Bee’s editorial board in September and February called for a “middle-ground negotiated solution that would allow the project to move forward.” It took the threat of a lawsuit by the city, a May court date and yeoman negotiations by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to reach a deal.

With a settlement in hand, construction is expected to begin early next year. Long-empty storefronts in the 700 block will get restored historic facades, new interiors, second-floor apartments above retail, restaurants and a music club. A six-story apartment building will rise, with 54 units at market rate and 83 units affordable to lower-income families, a much-needed element downtown.

A potential catch is the deal’s reduction in the city loan from $3.6 million to $1 million. Creative financing will be key. All parties expect that federal and state tax credits and a state bond allocation for affordable housing will be in hand by September or October. Citibank and Farmers & Merchants Bank have remained involved and stand ready to make private financing work, a sign that the promise of the new arena has improved prospects for other downtown projects.

Even the boarded-up Biltmore Hotel and surrounding vacant buildings on J Street between 10th and 11th streets, across from Cesar E. Chavez Plaza, could be headed for development. Owner John Saca recently bought the last parcel needed for a proposed residential high-rise, The Metropolitan.

“He can now consolidate the site,” Leslie Fritzsche, the city’s economic development manager, told the editorial board. “He has indicated that he is highly motivated to reactivate his Metropolitan project,” with groundbreaking next year.

A big hole in the ground remains at Third and Capitol, the gateway to downtown from Tower Bridge. It was taken over by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System in 2007, and lead developer CIM Group said in February it intended to have “actionable plans more fully defined in 12 months,” a snail’s pace.

City officials have seen nothing specific. The same effort that brought the Department of Finance to the table should be applied to CalPERS and CIM Group to get action on this key gateway site.

In his 2012 book, historian Burg characterized K Street as “Where Our City Was Born.” The city and the Downtown Sacramento Partnership have seen a spike in calls and inquiries about downtown properties. K Street is poised to be where our downtown is reborn.

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