City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

February 14, 2011
What should we do with downtown Sacramento?

A team of urban design experts and city planners are in town this week to evaluate the development plans for downtown's J-K-L corridor and provide pointers for moving forward.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear your thoughts. What's missing from downtown? Is it housing? Retail to rival the suburban malls? An arena?

Those are some of the elements the Mayors' Institute on City Design will be looking at through Wednesday, when team members will submit their findings at City Hall. Mayor Kevin Johnson said at a morning press conference the visit was part of the city's push to "challenge some of our assumptions and invite new people with new ideas."

"For many years we've spent money and squandered opportunity and have not capitalized on an unbelievable downtown potential that we have," he said.

The urban design team will look at the city's plans for J, K and L streets downtown and, based on what they've seen in other cities, advise the city on how to best move forward. The group is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

City and downtown officials said the timing is perfect.

Officials are in exclusive negotiations with two development teams proposing to revamp the blighted 700 and 800 blocks of K Street. Those teams were granted control of nearly two dozen city-owned properties last year and development plans could be brought to the City Council in June.

Of course, when talking about the future of downtown, the arena is bound to come up. The design team was asked what impact an arena could have on downtown.

"Too often we think we need to jump to the biggest and most expensive solution and fill in around it," said Betsy Jackson of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Urban Agenda. "Practically speaking, most of our lives don't function that way and urban spaces don't function that way."

The conversation at the press conference eventually shifted to the role redevelopment money has played in the ongoing effort to revitalize the city's urban core. Redevelopment agencies would be slashed under a budget-saving proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown.

"I think it would be interesting to see what downtown would look like without the use of redevelopment (funding)," said Leslie Fritzsche, the city's downtown development manager. "There would be more holes in the ground, more blighted buildings."

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at


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