Foon Rhee

Foon Rhee: A catchy, but unofficial slogan for downtown Sacramento

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:04 pm

It's not going to be downtown Sacramento's official new marketing slogan, but it does have a certain ring to it – "slummy but sexy."

It definitely caught my ear at the 15th annual State of Downtown event on Tuesday. In its own way, the motto does describe the mixed bag of problems and potential downtown.

There are still too many vacant storefronts and trashy lots, but K Street between 10th and 13th is fully leased, 26 new businesses opened last year, and more than 230 residential units were added, according to the Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

There isn't enough unique retail to make downtown a must-see shopping and nightlife destination, but there's hope from the purchase of struggling Downtown Plaza by JMA Ventures.

There have been some high-profile shootings, including the one on New Year's Eve, and there are continuing concerns about street crime. Yet attendance at public events – concerts, farmers markets and the like – surged from 491,500 in 2011 to 705,500 in 2012.

At Tuesday's event, downtown partnership Executive Director Michael Ault accentuated the positive. But he also urged the city's new police chief to focus on public safety in the urban core.

If people don't feel secure, all the efforts to enliven downtown won't amount to much. Visitors and residents will be scared off, as will business owners willing to take a risk.

One of those newer entrepreneurs is Carina Lampkin, executive chef and owner of Blackbird Kitchen + Bar, a seafood restaurant/oyster bar that opened last April near Ninth and J streets and was up for the partnership's Vibe Award for visionary innovators (won by Sid Garcia-Herberger of Crest Theatre fame).

In her nomination video, Lampkin was talking about what drew her from San Francisco to Sacramento when she said downtown is "kinda slummy but sexy, all at the same time."

She was explaining that part of the attraction is that downtown isn't fully formed, that there is a chance for someone new and ambitious to make it. "I want to be a part of the future," she added. Sacramento needs more people like her.

The big wild card in downtown's future, of course, is the renewed possibility of a shiny new arena downtown, either in the vacant railyard or as part of a redo of Downtown Plaza.

While there are studies that cast doubt on how much economic impact is produced by a new arena, there's no denying that Kings games and concerts would bring more business to bars and restaurants and would add some excitement.

Downtown would be less slummy and more sexy.

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