Folsom's historic centerpiece ready; other features delayed in redevelopment cuts

04/10/2012 12:00 AM

04/10/2012 7:53 AM

When Folsom celebrates the opening of a $6 million amphitheater and public plaza Saturday, it will represent the centerpiece of its Historic Folsom Station project.

Only that centerpiece, however, is ready for celebration.

A year ago, city officials and a private developer were expecting the plaza unveiling to be accompanied by the opening of the $11 million Granite House – a mixture of ground-floor shops and loft residences that would bring a more urban flavor to the plaza.

Additional mixed-use buildings and a free-standing restaurant were to follow.

The economy and Gov. Jerry Brown's historic elimination of redevelopment agencies stepped in the way.

"It's a little frustrating," said developer Jeremy Bernau, repeating the observation several times in a phone interview.

Bernau Development had an agreement with the city of Folsom's Redevelopment Agency, under which it would buy land surrounding the plaza at market rates.

"We have a shovel-ready project," Bernau said. "There's no public subsidy for our private buildings."

However, the cutting of redevelopment agencies means the city must put the project under a new oversight committee, which will have to pass judgment on plans.

The state action "introduced some other hurdles we have to jump," said Folsom City Manager Evert Palmer.

Bernau and Palmer both have hopes, rather than confidence, that construction on Granite House can begin this summer.

"I am cautiously optimistic, because this is territory no one has wandered through," Palmer said. "It's uncharted waters."

More than governmental approvals is needed. Bernau will need to round up funding to build.

"It's still not easy to get construction financing," he said.

However, he said he has pre-sold two-thirds of the units, which should make lenders more amenable.

And completion of the plaza will make the buildings that much more attractive.

It makes the historic downtown more of a gathering spot.

"It's kind of the gravitational pull that keeps the city together," said Palmer.

"It'll be a big step in bringing more people down to the district," agreed Candy Miller, president of the Folsom Historical Society and chairwoman of the Historic District Commission.

The plaza, with a historic railroad engine turntable, represents a modern version of the old rail terminus from the 1900s, a kind of small-scale Grand Central Station.

"We're modernizing the infrastructure, while honoring and interpreting the history," Palmer said.

Even if the modernization takes several more years, Saturday's plaza-opening celebration – with music, art and historic demonstrations – is a milestone.

"I've been watching for 10 years," said Miller. "I'm very excited it's to the point where it is."

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