Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Railyards Close Escrow

The holidays, jury duty, and the flu...the last couple weeks have been hectic so I haven't had a chance to post anything in a while.

Hell as frozen over....The Railyards closes escrow

The land is now in the lands of Thomas Enterprises and the important Depot now belongs to the city along with the 8 surrounding acres. The money set aside is 55M for the depot and land but I think some people don't realize it is not a done deal, there is still going to be an apprasial done, negotiations, and mediation as a last resorrt, so the final price will most likey be less than that. It's not going to be cheap to finish the Intermodel, Federal Transportation Funds are going to be key to get this completed.

Another tidbit I think a lot of people don't know about it while some of the railyard still needs cleaning, the portions closest to the station has been cleared for years and is ready to go. I'm 98% sure about that, if I have it wrong someone can clarifiy.

The best part of this all is the site and potential developement is owned by one company. This will allow a complete plan to be done for the entire area, versus the piece meal approach that takes place in downtown right now due to so many property owners.

This is our best chance to create a new walkable urban neighborhood from scratch. With that said, I'm not digging the Bass Pro Store at all. I guess I will hold out until I see how they intergrate the bix box to the area, but having bix boxes in itself isn't the start I was hoping for.

While an arena would be nice to have in the area, I think it's now a pipe dream and needs to just be put in Natomas. Too many problems between the Maloofs, City and Thomas. If the Maloofs want to still be in Sac, they for darn sure don't want to be in the Railyards. Natomas is a cash cow for them and that is where they want to stay.

They say construction could begin late 2007, I have my doubts about that. If they get started in 2008, that will be a good timelime. Even when construction starts we are still looking at a 15+ year build out. While it will be great to watch the progress made, it will be a slow process. Maybe I can retire there.

Railroad deal pulls into station
The developer closes escrow, and the city takes historic depot.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer

After a week of tension and last minute hold-ups, Georgia developer Thomas Enterprises closed escrow Friday on the downtown Sacramento railyard -- birthplace of the transcontinental railroad and centerpiece of the city's history.

At the same time, the city of Sacramento took ownership of the train station on I Street, a key piece of the region's rail transportation system since 1926.

Gathered in front of the historic, red-brick train depot, city officials sipped champagne with representatives of Thomas Enterprises as they announced the transfer of the railyard and celebrated its role in the planned extension of downtown.

"For 150 years this site has nurtured the city of Sacramento; now it's time for it to become part of the city of Sacramento," said Richard Rich, Thomas Enterprises' development director, as he popped open a bottle of champagne.

The head of the company, Stan Thomas, did not attend. He will attend a formal ceremony in January, said vice president Suheil Totah.

Totah would not reveal the price paid to Union Pacific for the railyard, citing a confidentiality agreement with the railroad.

Negotiations with Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific proved difficult and complex until the end. The deal, scheduled to close Thursday, was delayed after a last-minute dispute over who would pay to move an underground pipe.

Plans for the 240-acre property -- now a contaminated Superfund site -- include a new transportation complex, a railroad technology museum and public market inside the historic shop buildings, plus 10,000 housing units, stores, offices and hotels.

A Bass Pro fishing outlet has signed a letter of intent to be the first retail tenant.

"The city of Sacramento is really relieved to have the escrow close," said Mayor Heather Fargo. "Today is kind of like a dream come true."

Totah noted that he and other members of the development team had been working on the deal for four years.

In his address to the media, Totah thanked so many people who had worked on aspects of the effort that his remarks resembled an Oscar acceptance speech.

"Many people did not believe in us. ... But we never gave up. We never let go of our dreams," Totah said.

Crucial to closing the deal was $55 million from the city of Sacramento. That money bought the city immediate control of the depot and eight surrounding acres.

Once a fair price is determined through negotiation and possible arbitration, the city will apply any money left over from the depot purchase to another 24 acres it plans to buy for a transportation complex serving trains, buses and light rail.

In addition to the city money, Thomas received a loan for about $16 million from Union Pacific, according to documents filed with the Sacramento County Recorder.

Deborah Pacyna, a spokeswoman for Thomas Enterprises, said those two sums did not equal the entire purchase price, however.

She stressed that Thomas Enterprises has already spent about $40 million on the railyard deal in planning and legal expenses.

The company also has promised to finish the toxic cleanup begun by Union Pacific, a task expected to take about two years. Totah would not say how much the remaining cleanup is expected to cost.

Decades of uncontrolled dumping of diesel fuel, heavy oil, battery acid and other chemicals into the ground in the once-bustling industrial complex left extensive groundwater and soil contamination. The groundwater is being pumped out and cleaned -- a process that will take many years, but won't affect development.

About two-thirds of the contaminated dirt has been excavated thus far, Totah said. Progress slowed recently as UP negotiated to sell the property.

"We're going to be expediting the cleanup of the site in January, so you're going to be seeing a lot of activity taking place," he said.

Thomas Enterprises has obtained an insurance policy to cover unexpected discoveries of additional pollution.

Transfer of the railyard to a private developer is a historic step in the redevelopment of one of the largest urban "infill" sites in the nation.

The problem of how to get things moving at the dormant yard has vexed politicians for years. The last crews in the rail shops, once the city's largest employer, punched out in 1999.
"I never thought I'd be spending most of my political career on this site," Fargo said of her longtime role as railyard booster.

Over the years, local officials have repeatedly complained about the difficulty of getting Union Pacific to move more to get its Sacramento properties restored and redeveloped.
UP didn't say much about the transfer.

"We've been working on the sale of the property for some time, and it has finally come to a culmination," UP spokesman Mark Davis said upon hearing the deal had closed.
Mike Casey, the UP official in charge of local real estate deals, did not attend the news conference and could not be reached for comment.

Local preservationist Kay Knepprath applauded the change in ownership.

"Enough of having to deal with UP, whose minds and hearts are in ice in Omaha," she said. "We're ready to celebrate."

Knepprath and other activists have long fought for preservation of the 1926 train station and were instrumental in a compromise to move it about 300 feet north and make it the hub of the city's planned transportation complex.

Knepprath said she is excited by Thomas' plans for the railyard.

"This development is really going to take our city up a notch," she said. "We're going to surpass all those good things Portland was able to do. We'll have something even better."

Among its many other components, the plan for the railyard includes a potential site for a new Kings arena within a sports and entertainment zone. But Sacramento County voters in November rejected a proposal to raise sales taxes by a quarter cent to fund its construction.

Fargo said a piece of land is still earmarked for an arena, "if anyone out there can help us figure out a way to pay for it."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sacramento Urban Design Plan Update

On December 11th the City of Sacramento Development Services held an urban design workshop talking about future development for downtown. There was talk of maximum building heights, building height zones, separation between towers, and transfer development rights. I did not get the chance to go, but from what I have read and heard from others, the workshop was very positive. Here some slides that were featured at the work shop.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sacramento in HDR

High Dynamic Range photography (HDR)

HDR is exposure blending of three shots taken at different exposure levels. In the case of most of these photos, my settings were +2, 0. -2. It's the weaving together of high contrast scenes and highlights into a detailed image created from multiple exposures.

Anyway... enjoy :)

Click photos to make bigger.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Old Soul Coffee Company

The place many people, including myself, love is in trouble with the Sacramento County Health Dept. Give me a break, this ranks up there on my pissed off list with the whole Distillery debacle.

While I am on the subject, stop by and get some pizza dough, my wife and I gorged ourselves in it the night we picked it up and loved it.

This places oozes the culinary entrepreneurship we want to see, and are seeing a lot more of in Sacramento these days, esp in the central city.

From Tim Jordan at Old Soul:

Old Soul Co.
Where we’ve been, Where we are & where we’re going

This week, The Sacramento County Health Dept issued Old Soul Co. a Food Vending Violation Notice, instructing us to immediately stop selling food at retail without a Sac County Health Permit. This is our story, and we’re sticking to it....

We (Jason and Tim) set out to build a wholesale coffee roasting and bakery business in the heart of Midtown, where all the action is—to be in the middle of the burgeoning food scene, where the prospective restaurateur clients were making a name for Midtown Sacramento.

We found an unconventional space, and it struck us immediately that this could be a great fit. Two unknown guys, with no product or identity or background create an incubator on an alley—in an unimproved storage warehouse, where experiments in passion and collaboration of ideas come together to make great product and forge a solid brand identity.

How to do it? Hire the best architect (Ron Vrilakas), consult with the heads of the City Planning and Building Process (Ray Kerridge’s “Matrix” team), and bring in all disciplines and departments to make sure we were doing it right. Three and ½ short months after signing our lease, this terrific team made it happen, and we were officially cleared for business.

Back in July, we couldn’t quite imagine where we are now. Through a combination of hard work and tremendous support from the business and civic leaders of Sacramento, our wholesale business has exceeded our projections. The positive feedback and media coverage has been astounding (especially as we haven’t budgeted any PR time or $$ into our 18 hour days). And shockingly, people have either stumbled upon or embarked upon a pilgrimage to L-Cap Alley, to see why their favorite restaurants, cafes and grocery stores were supporting this new Old Soul Co. In doing so, an amazing coming together of wisdom and optimism has enlivened the space, as bon vivants and raconteurs rub elbows with the aforementioned bright lights of Sacramento’s food and political scene.

In trying to make sense out of the free-flowing chaos that ensued, we made some rules: come in if the door is open (no set hours), you can buy stuff if we have extra (always for $2), and by the way, “we aren’t retail” (no parking, door, HVAC, restroom access). Our come as you are and stay as long as you want policy resonated with those who scheduled their business, social and political gatherings at our space on an increasingly frequent basis.

Alas, unconventional doesn’t always work for everyone, and it isn’t always fair. You can’t count on us being open, you can’t get a mocha or anything “whippy” or with ice, we are OFTEN completely out of extra bread and baked goods (remember, we sell this stuff to our wholesale accounts, not retail), and you can’t use the restroom. It may not be right, but it is the way it is at Old Soul, and has been somewhat self-weeding to the community of people we fit. It also happens to run afoul of Sacramento County, who says if it looks, feels and smells like retail, it is retail—requiring adherence to all of the rules of Sac County Health, and the issuance of a Sac County Health Permit.

So, where do we go from here? First and foremost, Old Soul Co. wants to be a good citizen, to comply with the rules and to continue to be an asset to the community. It is our hope that we can quickly get there, building upon the work done by City and State officials to determine those few things needed to adhere to the standards set by the County. It may take a little outside of the box thinking to allow this unconventional business to thrive, but I’m convinced that Sacramento wants and really does have an Old Soul.

From the 25th Floor

These are photos I took from the 25th floor of the US Bank building looking west. From this vantage point were able to see where most of the major high-rise towers will be rising from. I did not include the Aura tower that would sit next to 621CM because nothing has happen on that site since summer of this year when test pile driving was occurring… but permits to begin foundation work were pulled recently. Lots going on… click on pictures to enlarge.

Looking west towards Capitol Mall.

Pile driving at the Towers site... two high-rises at 53 floors.

621 Capitol Mall - 25 floors.

500 Capitol Mall - 25 floors. Currently demolition is happening to the present structure.

Look across the river in West Sacramento.

Pile driving for the CalSTRS headquarters - 19 floors

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Interesting Infill Project

This project is at the corner of 16th and H where that big empty lot across the street from the Governors Mansion.

Looks like thedevelopment is for 48 condo units (109 Dwelling Units per Acre), which is pretty dense, and it will continue development along what I think will be a great walkable 16th Street.

The kicker is, the units are going to be really small.

Planning Commission Staff Report

Loft Square Footage and Unit #
416 sf - 1 Unit
449 sf - 3 Units
487 sf - 3 Units
497 sf - 3 Units
579 sf - 3 Units
589 sf - 3 Units
599 sf - 9 Units
607 sf - 3 Units
633 sf - 3 Units
640 sf - 9 Units
762 sf - 3 Units
1,151 sf - 3 Units

My buddy (and his gf ) who lives in Manhattan has a small loft like this. Its less than 500 feet, with an alcove toward the ceiling where his bed is, small kitchen, small bathroom, and enough room for a TV, small sofa, table, and cabinet for clothes.

Granted he goes out quite a bit, but I could see a single person making this work if they don't mind the small living quarters and can live without much cluter. Now I know in Sacramento this is hardly the norm when it comes to housing, but for people in other large cities in the US, and the world, these type of housing units are common.

This obviously isn't the answer for family housing and is definitely not for everyone, but for someone young, single with not a ton of money to start with who wants to own a place downtown and goes out a lot, this could work if they understand what they are getting.

Does it have legs here in Sacramento? I've thought a development like this could work, so I guess I'll find out.

I am curious about price though. Let's say they are $400 a square foot, that's 160K-250K for most units. Would a developer ask more than that though? I am going to assume since the units are small, there is a lot of space in the building that can't be sold thus maybe a need for a higher square footage price.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The NEW Marriott

I think the new Marriott at 15th and L Streets will be a fine addition when completed. Keep in mind that it's a Marriott hotel and not a five star hotel. It's expected to be completed by April 2007.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

News and Review: Planning beyond Portland

Another good piece in the News and Review today around families and the growth we are seeing in the central city.

The premise is around the need for more affordable family housing in the city. I think we all know that is a major need. Uneasy Rhetoric has commented many times on the need for this.

Part of the problem, along with price, I think we see is that people still fall under the mentality of not raising children in a city, but in the suburbs. I think we are slowly starting to see that change, but is it enough to shift the market so developers see a reasonable size demand for this product? a reasonable price.

I'm sure subsidies will do the trick, but is there another way to accomplish the goal? My guess is Yes. Will policy's and ordnances work? It worked for Vancouver, but would it work here? Not sure.

Also on my mind, I still think many are still only considering downtown the Central Business District. There are many many neighborhoods that surround the JKL area that I feel most people don't consider. The place we choose to live has 3 parks in all directions within a 5 minute walk which suits us well for our family. The school my kids will attend is a short car ride, or a reasonable walk, many preschool and children learning centers for toddlers, with some children theatres, with the Unity Center and Chidrens Museum down the road. Lot of stuff in the immediate area for kids.

The "Living First" (Excellent read) from Vancouver the writer mentions seems to revolve around a lot of very solid principles a couple of which really stuck my eye.

"The first principle has been to limit commuter access into downtown and let congestion be an ally in a householdÂ’s profound first decision to live downtown or in the suburbs."

Well if a traffic problem is one key to getting people to move downtown, we are on our way. The problem is our public transit is behind Vancouver. In addition to that, Sacramento and really most other cites in California and the US tend to use transportation money that seems to promote more use of the auto, versus mass transit. Why else would still not have our DNA line, Intermodal or just now start looking at Streetcars?

"Another basic principle has been to develop a complete neighborhood unit at a pedestrian scale with mixed use, an infrastructure of necessary utilities and amenities, an associated local commercial high street, and phasing to make ancillary amenities available as people move in and need them. It was necessary to include what sociologists call the essential “third places,” after home and work, where people gather to create the tangible society of their neighborhood."

This is an area I think we are moving solidly into this around the midtown area. The infill we are seeing all over the place from the large 18th and L and L Street Lofts projects, the East End Gateway and Crystal Ice, to the small 4 or 6 unit infill at S and 20thish that will include a neighborhood bistro in an area with relatively no gathering points for many blocks, are all creating the "third places" that is mentioned.

The CBD of Downtown still has yet in my mind to really define it's "third places". K Street I think will be a citywide third place, but beyond a place like Temple I think is still to be defined and will be happen based on where high densities of people are placed.

The one criticism I have seen of the "Living First" is that Vancouver is running out of office tower sites that condo towers have taken, thus creating a potential for jobs to move out of the downtown area.

Live, Work, and Play...they all need to go together. I think Sacramento has quite some time before they need to really worry about a shortage of sites though.

I have no doubt in my mind Sacramento is on it's way, but this just shows you how far we truly have to go to really get there. My hope is over the next 10-15 years we can start seeing other cities use some 'principles' from Sacramento.

Planning beyond Portland
By Dave O'Toole

The residential future of downtown Sacramento--like the view from the top of the emerging 53-story “Towers on Capitol Mall”--is likely to astound the beholder. With 20,000 housing units planned or under construction, glamorous residences like the Towers are only the beginning. City Manager Ray Kerridge recently predicted that 60 residential and commercial high rises could be developed downtown over the next 10 to 15 years.

However, unless a truly compelling and inclusive housing vision is adopted, Sacramento may be headed for the downtown destiny of cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland: a largely childless, family-unfriendly urban core.

One of our most cited urban examples is Portland, a city whose jewel of redevelopment, the Pearl District, has been tarnished by a major oversight in design and affordability: the near absence of children. In that neighborhood there are, according to news reports, only a few dozen school-aged children among 6,400 units of housing.

This matters because families are an essential thread in a stable and long-term community fabric. Families with children tend to be active in preserving the safety, appearance and amenities of their community. Sadly, many prospective parents downtown feel forced to move out to suburbs to raise a family. They shouldnÂ’t have to relocate.

Vancouver, British Columbia, presents an innovative alternative. In Vancouver, a "Living First" A housing policy led to an unprecedented urban residential transformation that, among other things, required that at least 20 percent of new housing units be affordable, and that 25 percent be designed for families. Additionally, Vancouver created fiscal incentives for developers to build whole neighborhoods where families would be accommodated with schools, child-care facilities, recreation and other amenities.

Vancouver has transformed popular notions about density, urban-housing design and the role of families in populating a city. It now boasts a broad demographic cross-section of more than 20 percent of its population living in the downtown core (SacramentoÂ’s share is less than 4 percent) and recently has been named the most livable city in the world.

Portland and other attractive urban models also signal a warning for Sacramento’s downtown residential future. For a more compelling and inclusive model, our city should look north to Vancouver and pursue “Living First” principles as a key component to shaping our downtown destiny.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

News and Review: None dare call it sprawl

There is a great article in the News and Review today about the failed attempt to turn Natomas into a walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly community.

My wife and I lived in Natomas for 2 1/2 years after we were married before moving downtown. Right away we knew it wasn't something we were going to enjoy. We tried hard as to make it that walkable community by walking to Kings games, walk to Bella Bru or Blockbuster. I've always thought if other people saw us walking places, they would follow suit and give it a shot...but it just didn't last for long. Others never came and it was quite a boring walk that was more of a hassle than enjoyful. Yes, walking to games sounds a little a bit much (it was only about 20 mins though), the first time or two was okay, but after that no thanks.

Now a days, I rarely ever get in my car after making the drive back home from work in the Roseville area. God, I wish light rail ran out to Roseville. Anytime we go out to dinner or drinks, or to see a show we walk. We really settled into the perfect area in the middle of everything which makes it easy.

There were a few items in the article I found interesting and odd:

- “For its time, it was ahead of its time,” Mende said. “It was the smart-growth model, part one.”

It may have been in the plans, but I fail to see how anything that was built in Natomas was ahead of its time.

- North Natomas was one of the first developments to cluster new houses around parks and school sites; nearly 80 percent of North Natomas homes were planned within walking distance of open space.

First of all, open space my mind is critical in creating neighborhood gathering points. As I walk and drive around Sacramento I see some great opens spaces that are used by the public the way it should be. Other times, I come across open space and that's all it really is "open space" with no connection to the neighborhood or community.

Open space should be inviting and have a functional use within the enviroment in which is it placed. Open space in Natomas is open space for the sake of open space.

Even if they did do that right, okay great, but what about the many other items that truly make a walkable community? Food? Shopping? Entertainment? Not having the Natomas light rail line up and running by now doesn't help.

I found it so funny how they even mention that the retail in Natomas isn't walkable. You go to one store in the new "Sacramento Gateway", you get in your car to go to the next..argggg!!

Natomas became a place where you open your garage to leave your house, you open your garage to come back open, only to close it once you pull in. Which I was just as guilty of as everyone else. There is no neighborhood feel in Natomas. There is no connection of anything in the area.

Who do you blame in this case? I was a little young when all the planning began for Natomas, but it sounds like the plan was there to create the right enviroment. So where did it go wrong? My guess is the city messed it up by allowing developers to create what we see there now. Allowing too much rezoning instead of letting it run its course.

The Delta Shores sound interesting, but my guess is it will become another Natomas with maybe a few mixed use, smart growth areas thrown in.

As the article mentions, while the central city is filling in the gaps and creating that walkable community, but the railyard are most likey our last chance to start something from scratch. Let's not mess it up.

None dare call it sprawl
But just because you call it ‘smart growth’ doesn’t mean it is

Sacramento's favorite daughter, author Joan Didion, once told SN&R that she couldn’t bear to come home to Sacramento and look around the great sprawling developments in Natomas; those concrete-covered acres used to be the most beautiful green spaces in the region.

Just drive up Truxel Road to see what she means. At one intersection, seven lanes of smelly, smog-inducing traffic come to a stop on their way north. Pedestrians wait endlessly at the corners in order to dash from one shopaholic’s paradise to another. They look as edgy as greyhounds waiting for the light to change.

Sacramento's favorite daughter, author Joan Didion, once told SN&R that she couldn’t bear to come home to Sacramento and look around the great sprawling developments in Natomas; those concrete-covered acres used to be the most beautiful green spaces in the region.
Just drive up Truxel Road to see what she means. At one intersection, seven lanes of smelly, smog-inducing traffic come to a stop on their way north. Pedestrians wait endlessly at the corners in order to dash from one shopaholic’s paradise to another. They look as edgy as greyhounds waiting for the light to change

For its time, it was ahead of its time,” Mende said. “It was the smart-growth model, part one.” In the ’80s and ’90s, developers and city staff weren’t plopping smart-condo and retail projects in the middle of the central city, or replenishing the city’s residency-hotel stock in order to preserve diversity, or building 50-story condo towers--which went from new thing to old news in the time it took to get the permits.

North Natomas was one of the first developments to cluster new houses around parks and school sites; nearly 80 percent of North Natomas homes were planned within walking distance of open space. Within housing tracts, “snout houses,” with their garages thrust forward, were banned, and porches and balconies were added to bring people outdoors. To “create a sense of place,” North Natomas got its own town center, with a satellite community college and a new high school.

The town center also was supposed to have a public community center and a large library, but those have yet to break ground. The community currently shares one tiny library site with high-school students; it even sits on the Inderkum High School campus.

Though residents snapped up the homes far quicker than the city anticipated, the planned employment districts that were supposed to minimize commute hours still could take decades to mature. Without their developers’ fees, there’s no money for community centers. In the meantime, developers are pushing through rezones that turn prospective employment-center land and open space into even more housing and shopping. The small neighborhood-serving businesses that create the diversity found in vibrant areas like Midtown never materialized, neither did some of the small school sites anticipated by residents, but there’s plenty of big-box shopping.

The transition from community plan to sprawling community irritates the hell out of residents like Barbara Graichen, president of the Natomas Community Association.

“In East Natomas, a golf course was proposed. That was the first project that was pulled out,” she said. Bike lanes are inconsistent and stop short at numerous barriers. No one is safe walking through the sprawling shopping centers, and neither are the students who walk to middle schools on streets with no sidewalks and gutters. Though the plan was to get people closer to their jobs and off the roads, Interstates 80 and 5 are at a standstill during commute hours. North Natomas’ “Town Center” was supposed to bring people together, but it’s mainly a big shopping center, one that Graichen equates with “Anywhere, USA.” With no place to walk to within their neighborhoods, residents end up driving to shopping centers for entertainment.

Whatever the developer wants to build, Graichen said, they call “smart growth.”

“Developers aren’t evil,” Mende said. “They’re just responding to their perception of the market.”

Traditionally, say city planners, local governments ask developers to innovate--to push good, sustainable, environmentally responsible design forward--but developers are building what they know how to build and waiting to see how their peers and competitors handle the same challenges. Progress happens incrementally, especially in large undeveloped areas. Suburban developers look for economies of scale and tend to cluster similar uses together, inspiring phrases like “cookie-cutter development.”

Traditionally, say city planners, local governments ask developers to innovate--to push good, sustainable, environmentally responsible design forward--but developers are building what they know how to build and waiting to see how their peers and competitors handle the same challenges. Progress happens incrementally, especially in large undeveloped areas. Suburban developers look for economies of scale and tend to cluster similar uses together, inspiring phrases like “cookie-cutter development.”

But without that kind of diversity, North Natomas resembles nothing more than sprawling neighborhoods facing as many malls as can fit on the landscape. And even the malls aren’t walkable.

“You have to drive your car from one side of the shopping center to the other,” said Graichen. “They couldn’t be less pedestrian friendly.”

“The elected officials have all these wonderful policies,” she said. “They just don’t implement them.”

Though North Natomas is expected to mature and attract more employers, churches, parks and civic uses eventually, smart-growth advocates wonder whether future developments will fail to meet the city’s smart-growth ideals, too.

Delta Shores, 926 acres at the southern border of the city adjacent to Interstate 5, is one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in Sacramento. Developers who are proposing a “master-planned community” say they’re committed to smart-growth design. If you’re wondering, they say they won’t allow acres and acres of stucco in varying shades of tan and gray. “We hate that,” said Tom Karvonen, SunCal Companies’ project manager for Delta Shores. “We’ve got blues and greens and reds.”

The developer’s early November application to the city described Delta Shores as “a compact residential community of approximately 4,600 new homes oriented in a modified traditional grid pattern and anchored by two mixed-use retail centers--a regional oriented Town Center and Neighborhood Village Center.” Mende said the village will be right in the middle of the project and will provide neighborhood-serving retail.

Like parts of North Natomas, Delta Shores originally had been zoned for employment--high-tech offices, generally. But employers never materialized. As in North Natomas, the developers want to rezone light industrial land for housing and retail--the “regional” retail along Interstate 5 probably means big boxes and more cars.

Mixed use, as an ideal, means that houses, jobs, entertainment and shopping are clustered together so people can walk, bike and ride mass transit. Like North Natomas, the Delta Shores development bases its transportation plan on the future expansion of light rail.

Delta Shores is a huge opportunity and a tract of land that’s been skipped over for years, said Mende. “It’s closer to the central city than Elk Grove, which can reduce vehicle-miles traveled.”

But unlike North Natomas, said Karvonen, Delta Shores will include enough senior housing, smaller village-style retail, and 40 acres of wetlands. Fifteen percent of residences will be affordable (apartments only) and the development will include a 1.5-mile long walkable, bikeable linear parkway. “This is going to be 800 acres as opposed to 9,000,” he said, “so we can cluster open spaces together.”

Because the development is small enough, developers also can make it very permeable. They won’t have to wall it in, which means bikers and walkers can move freely.

Altogether, Mende sees this as evidence that developers are moving toward smarter growth. “There are fewer cul-de-sacs, fewer gated communities occurring,” he said. Developers also have seen that customers will pay a little extra to have walkable, bikeable trails, so those trails are incorporated into plans.

But there’s still very little of the mixed-use development that’s begun to fill in the holes in the central-city landscape. Attractive, walkable centers with shops on the ground floors and condos or apartments above? That’s something that doesn’t make it into suburban communities, Mende said. “We try to push as much as we think the market will bend. ... To hold Delta Shores to the fine-grained diversity in a downtown project isn’t going to work.”

If the city insists on uses that don’t pencil out, projects may not get built at all.

Developers may not be ready to create the mixed-use spaces planners like to see, but the city is running out of open space and opportunities to get it right. One of the last opportunities might be the rail yards, and if Sacramentans want a particular kind of development, they’ll have to attend city-council meetings and planning-commission meetings to demand it.

North Natomas had a smart-growth community plan that was supported by residents, and look at it now.

Towers in Trouble?

Trouble might be an understatement.

If the project is already $70M over budget, that number is for sure going to go up. While lagging sales don't help, the projects biggest problem seems to be the rising costs. Higher costs are always built into estimates, but it sounds like they went much higher than he was expecting.

I still think if he can get this built, he will sell out over the next couple of years, the problem is like the article says he probably isn't going to make much money in the end. He might even just be looking to break even right now.

CalPERS will get their share for their backing, Deutsche Bank will get its money, and Saca will be the last person to make a profit off of this project, if there is anything left.

He's overcome a lot of hurdles to this point, so my guess is he will over come this one as well. Having Bovis Lend Lease on board at this point is definitely a plus. The next couple months will tell an awful lot.


Towers project facing hurdles
Downtown high-rise residence far over budget; unit sales lag.

It's little more than a giant hole in the ground, but already the 53-story Towers hotel and condominium project is $70 million over its original $500 million budget.

Meanwhile, sales of the Towers' condos are slow, and developer John Saca has switched general contractors.

What all of that means for one of the tallest residential construction projects on the West Coast remains to be seen. Saca is in talks with his backers for more money, and his isn't the first commercial development to overshoot its budget. Contractor changes aren't as common, but Saca says that the swap brings in a more experienced high-rise mixed-use construction firm.

However, one thing is clear: Saca admits the Towers, at Third Street and Capitol Mall, is being pinched between a weak housing market and rising prices for materials such as steel and concrete.

Despite those challenges, Saca, a scrappy local developer who has already brought his project farther along than naysayers thought he would, remains optimistic.

"We're close to a deal with our backers for more money," he said Wednesday. "We're pumping along."

Saca went public two years ago with his vision for a massive twin-tower structure anchored by a luxury hotel, high-end retail and 804 condos rising 600 feet and drastically changing the Sacramento skyline. He figured it would cost about $500 million for the land and construction.
Many thought the building was too ambitious to be Sacramento's first high-rise condo project and questioned whether there were enough customers to fill all those units, priced from $368,000 to $852,000.

Saca, whose father founded the Filco home appliance chain, had a reputation as a savvy land investor and shopping center developer, but had no history with high-rise construction. Still, he gained credibility in April when the giant California Public Employees' Retirement System agreed to invest $100 million in his project.

Two months later, he signed a $375 million loan agreement with Deutsche Bank, contingent on Saca preselling 400 condos. Saca committed his own money to make up the balance.
Construction started, but as massive pile drivers over the summer banged away at the Towers' downtown Sacramento site, Saca realized the initial cost estimates fell short.

He appealed to Sacramento city officials and received an $11 million subsidy in October for the 18-story Intercontinental Hotel that will anchor one of the building's two towers. Now, he's in talks with his other financial backers for more.

"Costs are higher than when we struck our deals," Saca said. "We've had to go back, and we're close to loan closings with CalPERS and Deutsche Bank."

A CalPERS spokesman on Thursday said that the system's real estate representatives "have been in discussions with Saca about more money," but, like Saca, declined to say how much.
Calls to Deutsche Bank's New York offices were not returned.

Sacramento developer Paul Petrovich said that Saca probably will give up more or all of his ownership stake in the project for more construction cash.

"The pot at the end of the rainbow for John at this point isn't money, it's credibility with politicians, other cities and other lenders," Petrovich said.

With the Towers on his resumé, Saca could get into even bigger projects down the road, Petrovich said.

Besides funding challenges, Saca also said the condo market has gone soft with the rest of the housing market, and the Tower's sales are "slowing down." He also has a condo competitor, Craig Nassi, whose Denver-based BCN Development has plans to build the Aura tower two blocks east on Capitol Mall and Sixth Street.

Through September, buyers had made deposits on 364 units at the Towers, according to the most recent figures from Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, a Costa Mesa firm that tracks residential construction.

The slump didn't deter Bovis Lend Lease Inc. from taking over the general contracting duties from Turner Construction Co., which had overseen the project's pile driving phase. Both firms are based in New York City.

Privately-held Bovis is one of the world's largest project management and construction companies.

Bovis' Western Regional Vice President Todd Pennington said that he couldn't yet estimate when the Towers will open.

"We're developing schedules and hiring the trade contractors," Pennington said. "We'll just keep moving from where others left off and keep the progress going."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tower Crane Rises on Capitol Mall

Below are photos for the first crane of five that will rise along Capitol Mall. This one is for a 25 story tower (US Bank Tower). In the near future two more will rise for the Towers on Capitol Mall (53 floors), Aura (39 floors), and an office building at 500 Capitol Mall (25 floors).

Menacing the Capitol Dome.