Sacramento’s Capitol Mall needs an extreme makeover. Not the Hollywood variety, but a serious, concerted effort to make Capitol Mall Sacramento’s signature street.
Imagine if, instead of six lanes of roadway and a barren grass median strip, we put the roadway where the median strip is now and widened the sidewalks on either side to fill in where the current roadways are. Then we’d plant a second row of shade trees, put the new streetcar line connecting downtown with West Sac in the middle, and line the sidewalk with cafes similar to the outdoor café at Il Fornaio in front of the Wells Fargo Building. Voila! We’d have the most beautiful and vibrant sidewalk cafe district this side of Paris—and an instant venue for arts and major special events.
With the Crocker Art Museum and Old Sac close by and several attractive new office and condo towers lining the street, the resources are in place to make this dream a reality.
Most of the city’s efforts at downtown redevelopment have centered around K Street, long considered Sacramento’s “Main Street,” a label I have never understood, since J Street/Fair Oaks Boulevard and Capitol Avenue/Folsom Boulevard are, in fact, the two main east-west arteries in Sacramento. Unfortunately, despite millions invested to date, K Street between Seventh and Ninth is still plagued by divided ownership, lack of investment and vagrancy problems.
The pedestrian/transit mall concept has yet to flourish on K Street, though efforts are still under way to stimulate the street with new retail, housing and performing arts venues.
Meanwhile, just two blocks away sits Sacramento’s most prestigious address, Capitol Mall. Unlike K Street, this one-mile corridor between two fabulous bookends—the State Capitol and Tower Bridge—is a very wide street with unlimited possibilities. But in its present sterile state, it is a gross underachiever.
For many years, the state of California completely controlled the mall as a state highway, with six travel lanes and a large, barren median strip, ostensibly to preserve views of the Capitol. Until recently, this wide street was adorned with nondescript state and private office buildings. Despite its views and location, it was one of the last places on Earth you’d think of taking a leisurely promenade.
Several years ago, the city acquired the mall from the state, allowing the city to make significant changes to the street as long as we preserve the Capitol view. Because of its proximity to the Capitol, its unparalleled breadth and views of both the Capitol and Tower Bridge, it has been attracting a lot of private investment, starting with the Emerald Building and Wells Fargo Tower about 20 years ago, and more recently the ongoing construction of two new Class A office towers and plans for several signature condo towers, including Aura Tower, designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind. Although John Saca’s two-tower concept has gone awry, CalPERS is bringing in a seasoned developer, CIM, to do a landmark building at the west end.
The time is now right for the city to partner with the property owners along the Mall to develop a new vision, along the lines of the ChampsÉlysées in Paris, the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, the Ramblas in Barcelona, the Paseo del Prado in Madrid or my personal favorite, the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, which has the added feature of cool bubbling fountains throughout the boulevard. Sacramento currently lacks a grand avenue with sidewalk cafes and shops where pedestrians outnumber motorists.
Sacramento is no longer a small town or a collection of suburbs. We need to start thinking longer term about the kind of amenities that will make Sacramento a great city for decades and centuries to come. A great city must have a great center.
But Sacramento currently lacks a grand avenue with sidewalk cafes and shops where pedestrians outnumber motorists. Not a narrow K Street pedestrian mall, but a grand, tree-lined boulevard used by streetcars, buses, pedestrians, cyclists and, yes, even cars, but with sidewalks wide enough to accommodate thousands of pedestrians. Capitol Mall once hosted the mother of all parties to celebrate the Allied Victory in World War II.
It is time to regain that magic on the mall once more. This renovated Capitol Mall would fit well with other major redevelopment projects downtown, such as the railyards, with plans for beautifully restored historic buildings serving as markets and museums, thousands of new residents, hundreds of new shops and restaurants and a new performing arts center alongside a lively waterfront. Nearby, both sides of the Sacramento waterfront are being designed for mixed uses and open space, while the Richards Boulevard area, now known as the River District, will also be converted to a lively new mixed-use district of residences, offices and retail.
Adding to the Central City’s parks and open space is also critical. The south bank of the American River in the Central City has retained its natural beauty, but it has been blocked by industrial sites and landfills. The city plans to reopen access to uncover a whole new section of the American River Parkway, which will also be home to an expanded zoo and freshwater aquarium, and other attractions.
These are just a few of the things Sacramento has in store in the 21st century as we live up to our vision of being America’s most livable city.
Let me know what you think. I can be reached at 808-7003 or email@example.com.
That sounds like a great idea. And having been lucky enough to live right off the Champs Elysees in Paris, I know what a wonderful boulevard that is and how much it adds to the vibe of the city.
Hopefully our new plan will be great enough to make us not notice the large hole in the ground on Capitol Mall that once was the toast of town, the Saca Towers. Here's a picture of what Capitol Mall looks like now - a view toward the bridge - pretty junky!