In one of the poorest parts of Sacramento County, the closure of the Campbell Soup Co. factory last summer was a crushing blow to the Franklin Boulevard business district. But plans are already moving forward to breathe life back into the south Sacramento area.
County officials and business owners gathered this week for a groundbreaking ceremony for a $2.3 million street improvement project that will add landscaping, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities to the seven blocks of Franklin Boulevard lining the former soup plant. The project is part of a long-standing plan to revitalize a 4-mile strip of the boulevard running from Florin Road in the unincorporated county to Sutterville Road in Sacramento.
The latest beautification project is seen as a way to entice new businesses to locate in the former plant, which was recently purchased by a consortium that renamed it the Capital Commerce Center with plans to turn it into a mixed-use development.
“These improvements will create a more welcoming gateway to the boulevard,” said Frank Cable, president of the North Franklin District Business Association. “This is the foundation for attracting greater investment in the area, such as the Capital Commerce Center.”
The soup factory was the largest employer on Franklin Boulevard, and 700 high-paying blue-collar jobs left when it closed. The new owners expect to attract manufacturers, food processors and warehouses over the next few years, and they are entertaining the idea of creating retail space.
The closure added to a long history of problems on Franklin Boulevard, which was a bustling commercial district when it was a major north-south thoroughfare before the construction of Highway 99. When the highway was finished in 1961, it “had the effect of diverting a significant amount of the north/south traffic from Franklin Boulevard, which impacted the vitality of the commercial district,” according to a 2001 master plan completed for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency.
Franklin Boulevard today is a hodgepodge of mom-and-pop retailers, chain stores and light industrial businesses. But it is best known for its authentic Mexican restaurants, including El Caballo Blanco, La Michoacan and Mariscos Mazatlan.
The boulevard has suffered from perceptions that it’s unsafe, Cable said. While he said such perceptions are inaccurate, some areas near the boulevard have had high rates of gun crime.
Some of the nearby areas also have had some of the county’s highest poverty rates, ranging from about 30 percent to 50 percent in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
SHRA, working in conjunction with the business association and the city and county, came up with a wide-ranging plan to revitalize Franklin Boulevard in January 2001. The plan called for about $30 million in improvements, including street beautification work and new housing, on Franklin Boulevard and in adjacent neighborhoods.
But the only work so far has consisted of a street improvement project on Franklin Boulevard from 47th Avenue to Turnbridge Avenue, and at the intersection of Franklin and Fruitridge Avenue, and facade improvements on businesses, said Marti Brown, executive director of the North Franklin District Business Association.
SHRA spokeswoman Angela Jones was not able to say how much of the work in the 2001 master plan has been completed.
LaShelle Dozier, SHRA’s executive director, said the recession and the loss of redevelopment funds have made it harder to invest in the area. In 2011, the state ended redevelopment programs across California, eliminating another possible funding source for the revitalization work.
The first Franklin Boulevard improvements used $5 million in federal Community Development Block Grants and transportation funds, the same sources that will pay for the current project.
“This project has created a safer and more positive environment on Franklin Boulevard, making it more economically competitive,” said county Supervisor Jimmie Yee.
The business association, meanwhile, has decided to form its own community development corporation, which will enable it to receive grants from government and the private sector to do infrastructure improvements on its own, said Brown, a former Vallejo City Council member.
Association president Cable said it’s the only option left. “For years we’ve been waiting for government to help us improve the district,” he said. “But we’ve realized that local government is struggling, too, and if we wait for the next booming economy we’ll continue to be left behind.”
Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.