Blight to Bright

Finally, there’s hope for 11th and J

By Gary Delsohn
February 2020

If the cliché is true that the most important characteristics of a successful real estate project are location, location, location, one has to wonder how the block around 11th and J streets in Downtown Sacramento has been such a disaster.

Boarded up old buildings stand across from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and tantalizingly close to the state Capitol.

What The Sacramento Bee has called Downtown’s “most blighted and embarrassing block” has been an eyesore for longer than most people can remember.
I confess to dropping some cash at Rodney’s Cigar & Liquor Store every now and then for a good cigar when the weather is warm. But even a modest retail strip will never prosper when a dive like that is the anchor tenant.

Now, thanks to the vision and persistence of City Councilmember Steve Hansen and some colleagues, the rundown block is finally poised for a rebirth.

Anthem Properties, a Canadian developer with a solid reputation and desire to have an impact in Sacramento, has assembled the land. Demolition is expected to start any time now to make way for an attractive, seven-story mixed-use project with 153 apartments and retail space at ground level.

“You see a pattern with our most blighted sites,” Hansen says. “Huge aspirations in the early 2000s led to plans that failed, and with several of these sites the common denominator is local folks who own them who do not want to sell them except for maximum profit. So they’ve been bound up in this aspirational failure that occurred 15 years ago most likely, and we’ve all been stuck with the blight.”

This particular property sat dormant for so long because rebuilding there is not simple. The city’s original streets are 10 feet underground. To mitigate Sacramento’s perennial flood risk, the city raised the original streets in the mid-19th century. Steel bracing that runs up to current street level requires extra care. So, too, does dealing with asbestos and lead common in old buildings.

“The original owners had lots of people interested but they ultimately walked away because it was too hard,” Hansen says. “It just proved too much of a lift for many of the others who looked at it.”

Anthem did its due diligence and understands the challenges. It also purchased 1500 J St. for another mixed-use project in Sacramento’s increasingly attractive core. City Hall has welcomed the developer with enthusiasm.

“We’ve worked really hard to get a new owner for J Street,” Hansen says, “and what’s been great is the Anthem folks were really interested in working with the city to figure out what could be built, what we wanted to see built and how they could be good partners.”

Hansen has given a lot of thought to the central city he represents and what it needs to succeed. A devotee of the Jane Jacobs philosophy of urban planning who believes tightly knit, diverse, smaller-scale neighborhoods are essential, Hansen was determined to see housing at 11th and J.

“I think where the past city leaders had an oversight was in not building housing in the core to sustain the small businesses and other things that really depend on residents being nearby,” he says. “When people are only coming in for work or a game or something else, it’s not a fully developed ecosystem of a downtown, so we’ve really tried to prioritize housing.”

The reasoning is so obvious it makes you wonder how anyone could see it differently, but the market has to be right. These days, people want to live Downtown in a way they didn’t just a few years ago.

In the past, property owners tore down buildings we value today. Success with housing in Midtown, the investment in Golden 1 Center and other recent advances have primed the pump for more Downtown housing.

For Downtown to be healthy and vibrant, it needs full-time residents and an eclectic mix of amenities and attractions. To have such an eyesore in a prominent location has been more than a nuisance. Now, if this project works out, we can repair that psychological wound and inspire other successes.

Nearby properties may finally come alive with something useful. The K Street space that was home to Pyramid Alehouse is getting renewed interest. A city that saw its Downtown population drop from 58,000 residents in 1950 to 24,000 by 1990 seems to finally have its priorities right when it comes to the urban core.

Gary Delsohn can be reached at gdelsohn@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.com.

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