Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Capitol Grand Tower

Capitol Grand Tower
- 38 Stories
- 12th and J Street
- 200 Room Hotel
- 85 Condo's
- Resturant Space

Developer: Mo Mohanna, John Lambert
Architect: Jensen/Fey

Estimated Groundbreaking: Late 2005
Completion: Early-Mid 2007

The site of this project is the currently home to The Grand ballroom directly across the street from the Sheraton Grand. You may know one of the developers, Mo Mohanna, as one of the primary property owners on the blighted K Street Mall.

This project consists of a 200 room hotel, rumored to be a Hilton Garden Inn. I was glad to hear that it was going to be a Garden Inn for the reason that is would be nice for out-of-towers to have a less expensive option to choose from. The Hilton, Hyatt, and the hotel for 301 CM are a little on the more pricey side. This will give visitors a more affordable option when visiting Sacramento for business or pleasure.

The other piece of the project is 85 for-sale condos on the upper floors. Once again, this is what we need in downtown: housing, housing, housing!!

Considering the amount of the land they have to work with, the density for the project is great. This site sits on a 12,800 square foot parcel. That's TINY for a high-rise project. That about .30 of an acre. Talk about making the most with what you have. Just in terms of the housing that is 280 units per acre. That is up there with the density of The Towers. With the scarcity of land in our downtown, we need to make sure we get the most density out of as many of these housing projects.

There is just something about this building that when I look at it, it's very pleasing to the eye. I really like the style of this building how as you go further up the building the floor plates get smaller and smaller. I'm not sure if that is the color the building will be, but I like the way it looks in the rendering. As the old saying goes though, "If I could only live in a rendering" I'll be very interested to see what the finished product looks like

Problems I see with this project:
The only one I see is traffic circulation problems. Anyone who travels down J Street, you sometimes get caught in the stopping of cars that are pulling into the valet at the Sheraton. This tends to cause a little of a traffic jam in that section. I was able to attend the Environmental Impact Report meeting for this project and this very concern came up. From what it sounded like, the developers have a plan to place the hotel drop off point and residential parking off of J Street (The exact details escape me). If they can succeed with that, it will make passing through that area much easier.

Related Article:

Friday, July 22, 2005

Plaza Lofts

Plaza Lofts
J Street between 8th and 9th Street ("The Hole in the Ground")
225 Loft Units (40 Affordable Units)
21K Ground Floor Retail Space
Developer: CIM Group
Architect: LPA, Sacramento
Groundbreaking: Feb 2004
Completion: April 2006

The elegant story residential building is the real residential catalyst for downtown Sacramento. The site of this development is the infamous "hole in the ground" on J Street. For those who have been around Sacramento for a while know that this "hole in the ground" has been plaguing our central city for decades.

A little history behind this site starts around 1999 when developer Dean Ingemanson purchased roughly 1/2 of the site (other half was owned by the city) in bankruptcy court for roughly 2 million dollars and proposed building a 32 story mixed-use building that would be the new tallest in Sacramento. The building was called Metro Place

The building would have consisted of ground floor retail, office space that would be used by the City of Sacramento as it's administrative offices, and 114 apartments on the top 10 floors. This was the proposals city officials and downtown advocates had been waiting years for. Retail, office space and much needed housing all in one project. The project would have cost the city roughly 16 million dollars in redevelopment subsidy, loans and land. With the opportunity to finally get rid of the most blight part of downtown, the money was well worth it.

Problems arose over the next couple of years variety from:

- A downturn in the office leasing market. Even though Sacramento was experiencing one of the lowest vacancy percents in the nation, Sacramento was commonly lumped into the same bucket as San Francisco, which was experience tremendously high vacancy rates
- The sad passing away of Mayor Serna. Interim Mayor Jimmy Yee successfully lobbied to have the new office for Sacramento built behind City Hall
- Banks were very skeptical about do a loan for such a novel project for Sacramento, even though mixed-use was common in many other large cities
- City of Sacramento's planning and building departments were terribly slow in processing the application which cause the project to be approved during a lending slow down.

After years of trying to make the project work, realizing that Metro Place will not be able to get built, in 2002 the City of Sacramento struck a deal with CIM Group of Hollywood to develop the mixd-use project we see under construction today.

The development deal was agreed on with the same subsidy as what was available for Metro Place (~16M). The Ingemanson land was taken via eminate domain and give to CIM Group and construction began in Feb 2004 and will be completed sometime early in 2006.

My take on the project:
I think this is a great project for downtown. First and foremost, it gets rid of the more blighted part of downtown, second we finally get some downtown housing.

Many people I know do not like the project because they feel that is was a waste not to build a high-rise on that parcel. I disagree. Not everything has to be a high-rise to make our central city more livable and full of excitement. Plus, this building has a density of around 190 units per acre. That's just as dense as most high-risesYes, Metro Place would have been a nice building in our skyline, but this development give more of what we need downtown, housing!

This development has over 100 more units than the original Metro Place. That could mean as much as 150 more people to eat at restaurants, shop at the mall and give our streets life after 5pm and on weekends.

A design feature I like is the glass look of the building. This building will definitely light up this section of downtown with it's tall windows, openness, and light that will be projected from the units. One minor aspect that I REALLY like is that while the height doesn't matter, it's tall enough to cover up that ugly parking garage from the Renaissance Tower that faced J Street. From the construction picture below, you will be able to see what I am talking about. (Look at he back section of the building)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Towers on Capitol Mall

The Towers on Capitol Mall
3rd and Capitol Mall (Site of the old Sacramento Union Building)
-53 Stories Twin Towers
-765 Condo's ragning from 700 square feet up to 16,000 for the entire 53rd Floor
- 276 Room 4-Star Hotel
-65,000 Square Feet Retail Space
-10,000 Square foot Salon and Spa
-40,000 Square foot Fitness Gym

Developer: John Saca
Architect: Mulvanny G2
Estimated Ground Breaking: Fall 2005
Estimated Completion: Late 2007 - Early 2008


After years and years of city officials trying to get housing built in the downtown area resulting in many failed attempts, Sacramento native and local developer John Saca has answered that call, and boy did he ever.

This project has everything that we need in our central city, world-class hotels, LOTS of high quality retail that is badly needed in downtown (I'm sorry, but a Wal-Mart is NOT what we need downtown) and most importantly these high-rises will allow hundreds and hundreds of people the opportunity to live downtown and to provide life to downtown streets when the office workers leave for the suburbs. Our downtown business owners need these residents for vitality after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

The high level of architecture is clear here. I applaud Mulvanny G2 for a beautiful building that will definitely be a signature building in our skyline. Not just because of the height of it, but because of the elegant design and detail that was included. This may even become the signature residential building on the West Coast, maybe even West of the Mississippi. A couple of the features that I really like about this building are:

1) They choice to build two towers instead of one. By building two taller buildings instead of build one fatter shorter building it gives the towers it's elegant look versus a cold and empty look and feel like the horrendous East End Offices on 16th Street

2) Each tower is built at an angle which allows maximum views in all directions from each unit at the towers.

3) It gets rid of the mesa look that all of downtowns builds have. All of our tall buildings look like they are exactly the same height. As Councilwomen Sheedy once said, it looks like a lawnmower was used on our skyline. Having a skyline that varies in height is much more appealing to look at, in my opinion.

4) I really like the grand enterance at the foot of the building. One person on the design review board did not care for it because he felt the Tower Bridge was the real gateway into our city and that this entrance took away from it. I can understand his point, but I still like the entrance the way it is.

Demand is clearly high in Sacramento for a product like this. Last weekend the first batch of 250 units went in a matter of two days and sold for over 150M total. An average of 600K a unit. This will clearly have a good impact of future housing development in downtown now that the demand has been established. An important factor to remember about the high demand for these units is that downtown housing should be at the point where no public subsidy is required to make the project pencil out, a very good thing.

I have heard people through local media have certain grips about this projects. These views are simply outdated thinking, people who have an agenda, or short minded.

-People complain that they are too tall.

If the only bad thing people can find wrong with this project is the height, I feel that is the most short minded argument you can make. In a region where sprawl has been the overriding problem in how we have grown as a city, people need to learn we need to grow up, not out. Our air quality is already terrible as is, developing close to the city core will help take people off our freeways by allowing people to live close to work and will prevent us from using more and more of our precious farm land and we move closer to that next million in residence.

This is clearly way to big for midtown (East of 16th Street), but perfect for downtown where we should be encouraging developers to push the density envelope in most areas.

While this high-rise will be 23 floors taller than the current tallest in Sacramento, the 30-story Wells Fargo Building, it does not mean it will be almost twice as tall, not even close People need to keep in mind that floor heights of residential buildings are much less than a floor height of an office building. To get a fair comparison, The Towers would be the equivalent of a 40-42 story office building. I think that makes things easier for people to understand versus just looking at the total stories.

If you look at the stats for tallest buildings compared to a city and metro size, Sacramento is way way way down on that list. For anyone to say that a city the size of Sacramento Metro should not have buildings this tall is plain wrong. Some of the more notables: Omaha - 634 (population 717K) , Tulsa - 667, Des Moines - 630 (population 456K!!), San Antonio 622 , Milwaukee - 601, Greensboro - 460

621 Capitol Mall (aka Lot A)

621 Capitol Mall (aka Lot A)
24 Story Office Building
24K Ground Floor Retail

Developer: David Taylor
Architect: Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc (HOK)
Estimated Groundbreaking: Your guess is as good as mine

Completion: Your guess is as good as mine


The famous Lot A in downtown Sacramento. Say the words Lot A to any city planner, councilmember, or downtown advocate and you will mostly get a roll of the eye and big sigh.

Lot A has long been one of the most prized pieces of property in all of downtown Sacramento with its Capitol Mall address and proximity to the Capitol. Even with that distinction, it remains the surface parking lot its been for the nearly 20 years since city officals have been trying to get it developed.

The history of Lot A begins back in early 1988 during the last big office boom. The City of Sacramento held what was bascially a beauty contest for proposals from developers for the site. From what I know (I was pretty young at the time), the two finalist were:

Finally, in November 1989, Peter McCuen and Rockefeller Associates Realty Inc were selected to develop the property. The proposal (1st Rendering) called for a 40 story office building and a 20 story Ritz-Carlton (A Ritz in Sacramento?)

Unfortunately, as the case with the city development departments in those days (they are still slow now, but improving greatly) the process took entirely took long, nearly 2 years. The office boom ended in 1990 and lenders closed their doors to new office projects due to the economy and office leasing downturn. McCuen and Rockefeller dropped out of the development. If the city had acted a couple of years earlier or had a faster process, Lot A today may be developed.

With McCuen dropping out of the picture, the late Mayor Serna, desperate to bring jobs to Sacramento offered Lot A to any company whiling to put it's HQ on the property for $1 (Lot A was worth 10-12M) Needless to say, there were no takers.

Things stayed quite on the Lot A front for about 9 years. In mid-1999, the city decided to try and sell Lot A again. David Taylor (Developer of Esquire Plaza, Sheraton Grand, and the Ban Rollon Building) along with Westfield, owners of Downtown Plaza (DTP), made a push to purchase Lot A from the city. At the time Westfeild was looking to expand the mall and thought Lot A would be a good place to expand.

In Oct 1999, Taylor and Westfield were given exclusive right to negotiate for the purchase of Lot A. At that time, it was thought that development could start in early 2001.

In mid-2000, details started coming out of a 26 story office tower, 200 room Westin Hotel, and 150K retail space to be handled by Westfield. The following redering was for the office tower. Things were looking good.

As the case with Lot A, the good news only lasted so long. In Oct 2000, news came out that the Westfield expansion would be downsized to ground floor retail, instead of an extension of the mall. Westfield decided to expand on to K Street Mall toward 7th - 9th Street. As we know the expansion on to K Street never happen. My feeling, along with many other is it was a tactic used by Westfield decided to get the city to not back the potential retail developers Mills Corp from developing the railyard into a retail destination.

Lot A was finally officially sold to Taylor and Westfield in May 2001 for $11M. The fist phase of Lot A would be a 26-story office tower and 30K ground floor retail. For phase II, the city gave 3 options:

400,000-square-foot office tower with an additional 15,000 square feet of retail, 500-room hotel, or 65,000-square-foot entertainment-oriented retail center. We later find, phase II will eventually be something entirely different (and better)

The next step for Lot A was getting financed for the project and finding tennants for the buildings. Now, it was thought that construcion could be started in 2002, and done by 2004

Over 2 years later in late 2003 (wasn't it supposed to be finished by 2004??), financing was finally lined up by Taylor. The next supposed constucion timeline was to start in 2004.

This then, the design for the Lot A office tower has gone from the taller more slender and sleak version to the shorter (24 versus 26 story) more stubby looking rendering that you can see at the top of the page. The sqaure footage for the building dropped from roughly 400K to around 360K.

The only construction we have seen on the site is the building of the sales office that is currently built. Taylor is still looking for pre leasing in order to start construction of the first phase of Lot A, 621 Capitol Mall. Lenders usually require a certain amount of pre leasing before they will lend money, so far Taylor has ZERO. The latest news has been that Taylor is negotiating with Downy Brand Law Offices for a large enough lease to get started. That news is months old though and no news has been reported if they are still even talking or D&B will stay put at their current location at 555 CM.

Reports a couple months back said that Taylor was ready to apply for permits to start construction this summer. I'm not sure how serious to take those reports. It looks like "Phase II" will start before the supposed Phase I (read below)


Now that you are all caught up on the history (or at least as much as I know), what are my thoughts on it.

GET THE DAMN BLOCK DEVELOPED!!! I am so tired of driving by that site or looking outside of mens Macy's and seeing a surface parking lot when I could be on that site doing more shopping or grabbing a bite to eat.

I'm not a fan of the latest design of the building. The original Taylor proposal is much more of a "signature building" that the city was hoping for. Architects HOK are world class, but I have to imagine this one will not be in the book of bragging. The ground floor retail is nice and all, but a extension of DTP with maybe another department store would have been what that area needs considering the proximity to DTP and it's one department store.

In the end, given the high hopes for Lot A over the past 20 years, this part of Lot A is somewhat disappointing to me.

The one good thing about the latest design is that it's not nearly as much of a "block hog" as the first. The original looked like it took up the entire block, not leaving much room for phase II. We know now that phase II of Lot A will be Aura Condos with over 200 housing units and ground floor retail. It will also breakgound this year.

The part that bothers me about Lot A is the process that the city took the first time around. It took them almost two years to pick a developer. My God, I'm surprised any of them stuck around until the end. Lot A could have been developed 15 years ago if not for the process the city took.

The city has LONG been criticized for how it deals with developers and development opportunities. In recent years, much effort has been given to cleaning up the painfully slow processes. They recently hired away the planning director for the city of Portland to help revamp the department. Early reports in that he is doing an outstanding job and people in the industry are very happy with what is changing.


I decided to create my own little bog space to talk about one of my passions; urban development and revitalization. I am a lifelong Sacramento resident, except for a few years at college. After growing up in the suburbia known as Greenhaven in Sacramento, and then Natomas Park after I was married, my wife and I decided it was finally time to move to an environment which we both loved being in and was better suited for our personalities. We love going out to restaurants and other entertainment options only downtown and midtown have to offer. We also plan on raising our family in the home we recently purchased so they can to enjoy the culture and diversity of our city as well. We do not buy into the "once you have a family you move out of the city in the suburbs" mentality.

We are going through an unprecedented time here in Sacramento with regards to our central city, and with this, my blog will be mostly about the latest developments in Downtown and Midtown Sacramento. Sacramento has never really been known for its great urban living, but over the last 5 years or so, things have really changed for the better. Things only stand to improve by leaps and bounds over the next few years with latest flurry of housing, retail, and entertainment developments planned for our central city.

My general stance on high-rise housing, office, and hotel developments is that I judge based on the following criteria: Design, Density, and Street-level functional uses such as pedestrian-friendly ground floor retail/ restaurant /art gallery space, The Towers on Capitol Mall is a great example of this. "Make the first floor, the best floor"

While I love the sight of a nice looking skyscraper when I approach downtown on one of our congested freeways and would like to see the Sacramento skyline "grow up", I don't approve of a project solely based on how tall it is (Parthenon Office Building, Yuck!), or reject based on how short it is. (Plaza Lofts, Yes!!)

Over the next couple of weeks I will write on varies projects that you may or may not have read or seen about. I will post what I feel are pros and cons (if any) for the project.

If we want to see downtown Sacramento truly become a world-class city and become the entertainment, employment, arts, cultural, dining, shopping, and urban living center for the region, high-density mixed use housing development will need to be the most important part of the equation.

I hope you enjoy....