I had a chance days ago to take a walking tour of the downtown Sacramento Railyards site and get a new look at the largest downtown development project in the United States.
I did a story on this big development about four years ago as an Associated Press writer in Sacramento. Papers all over the country ran the story because it's so unusual for any American downtown to have this much empty land. If I recall correctly, the project then was soon to get going. But it's always true with real estate projects that things take longer and cost more. And so it has gone with this one.
But things are starting to move on a landscape that's eventually going to be home to 12,000 new residential dwellings in downtown Sacramento.
Most recently the project being developed by Georgia-based Thomas Enterprises got $47 million in state housing and infrastructure bond money. That's pushed its local, state and financing now to about $200 million, says Suheil Totah, a vice president for Thomas Enterprises. You'll hear more from him in a video here.
(He also says this project is a little like football. You just keep pushing it five yards down the line and try to get closer to the goal line. No big Hail Mary passes, just steady advances).
Bottom line, the Railyards project now has the money to do a ton of infrastructure work - such as new streets and a new alignment of railroad tracks to serve a new transit center there. The heavy yellow machinery and hard physical work that signals the real beginning of the project starts next year, Totah said.
He and project development director Richard Rich showed the historic old machine shops that are going to be turned into entertainment destinations. One will be a huge Farmers Market type building that's probably going to be somewhat similar to Pike's Market in Seattle.
Then there are a couple of plazas for people to gather and eye each other. Big outdoor living rooms, as they say in the trade.. They don't look like much now. But if you squint and imagine, it's easy to see this is going to make Sacramento very cool. Add to that Township 9 to the north and the Triangle in West Sacramento - and talk of eventual dual skylines on both sides of the river - and you'll come back here in 35 years and not recognize the place.
It was good to see it again after four years and hear that it's closer to reality. Suheil and Totah believe they'll hit the "market" perfectly, opening a lot of this in 2012. They believe, as do most, that the housing market will be soaring again. Also, that the market for downtown living will be stronger than ever.
Anyway, here is Totah with an update (Turn up your computer volume to hear him better).