Roseville and downtown Sacramento may seem worlds apart, but with the opening of a new town square Saturday capped by a Journey tribute band Roseville officials are hoping to bring a little urban vibe to suburbia.
The star of Saturday's celebration will be the 1-acre square at 311 Vernon St., but city officials hope the square will start a downtown revival chain reaction.
"It becomes the focal point," said Chris Robles, economic development director for the city of 120,000.
With the Union Pacific railroad station at the epicenter, downtown Roseville was once the hub on the city. But, over time, newer shopping centers and growth in outlying areas resulted in a downtown decay.
"We had grocery stores, an apparel store, movie theaters (and) ice cream parlors," former Roseville Mayor Harry Crabb said of the downtown area. "Everything we needed was there."
Crabb, 80, said he fondly remembers the days when Vernon Street was bustling.
"The low point was probably when they started putting in the malls," he said. "As the stores started leaving you saw a mishmash of things coming in."
While Roseville had become an economic juggernaut, boasting the two of the region's top shopping outlets, its downtown and old town had a multitude of vacant and low-rent storefronts.
In the early 2000s, the city, empowered by a community committee, decided to take a shot at reversing the trend. It crafted a plan and began pouring millions into infrastructure upgrades.
The $4.5 million town square (to be formally named later) is the latest step in the decadelong implementation of the plan.
The square features an interactive water feature, a fire pit, an events stage and 60 trees to break up the concrete hardscape.
Just as important as creating a comfortable space is programming to go with it, said Kathy Barsotti, the city's recreation manager.
In addition to large weekend events, the plan calls for smaller daytime events such as tai chi, yoga and children's story time.
"There really is a long-term vision here. We're not just putting in a town square and calling it good," said Brian Jacobson, a spokesman for the city. "This place is going to be active a lot."
The outdoor space was a hit with a trio of area mothers who brought their little ones out to tour the grounds on a recent Wednesday. Their only concern was the lack of shade.
"It's pretty. It's like a little park," said Julia Anderson of Citrus Heights. "It's cute down here but there is not a lot to do."
The women discussed the need for more restaurants and children's boutiques.
Businessman Joe Mohamed, who owns an adjacent property, is hoping to find a brave restaurateur willing to take on the challenge.
The long-term downtown plan calls for redevelopment of the single-story post office across the street from the square, moving a nearby firehouse to clear up space to develop housing along Dry Creek, creating a greater connection to Royer Park and attracting university extension centers.
Fellow businessman Steve Pease, who owns the new Sammy Hagar restaurant in addition to other properties, is bullish on downtown.
"It adds just one more dimension and one more lifestyle choice that you don't currently have," Pease said.
In many ways, the city's direction mirrors the movie "Back to the Future," said Chris Leinberger, president of LOCUS, a national network of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable urban development.
In the movie, and its sequel, the town square of the fictitious Hill Valley is vibrant place in the '50s. But by 1985, the mall is the town's new center and the square is populated by vagrants. However, in the future (complete with hover boards), the square is once again a happening place.
A walkable urban environment can work in the suburbs, Leinberger said, because some people are looking for something other than a three-car garage and a backyard, he said.
"You need to offer a walkable urban option that will complement the drivable suburban. It's not either/or, it's both," he said.
The square and the downtown development strategy have their detractors.
Crabb is one of those not sure about the expense.
"I didn't see a need for it," he said.
Roseville resident John Olson said he thought closing Vernon Street to hold food truck events and farmers market events was working out fine. He was also concerned that the square, which replaced the City Hall parking lot, makes it a longer walk for those who are handicapped.
But early reviews have mostly been positive.
Michael McDermott, who owns The Place pizzeria nearby, said Vernon Street reminded him of his hometown Boston.
"Rather than an old town dying away, this one is growing," he said. "I think it will be the new Fountains (shopping center), minus the yuppie mentality."
IF YOU GO
What: Grand opening celebration for new Roseville Town Square.
Where: 311 Vernon St.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Festivities will include a ribbon cutting, children's zone, live music, food truck and vendors. 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Concert featuring Journey Unauthorized, an '80s cover band.
Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.