Here’s hoping that this time, a makeover of Capitol Mall really happens.
The mall leading from Old Sacramento to the state Capitol long has been underused and underappreciated. The problem hasn’t been a shortage of ideas so much as a lack of the will and the wallet to execute them.
As recently as 2011, the city sponsored an international design competition. The winning entry called for an amphitheater, marketplace and children’s play area, but it has been on the shelf since.
This time, as The Bee’s Tony Bizjak reported Tuesday, some downtown leaders and City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the area, are leading the charge. Smartly, they’re not proposing a radical overhaul that is complicated and expensive – and unlikely to get off the drawing board. Instead, they’re starting with simpler plans, such as a performance stage, to make the mall more festival-friendly.
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On sunny days, the view from Tower Bridge to the stately Capitol can be almost majestic. But you don’t see people strolling on the mall very often – unlike green space in the hearts of many other cities.
Hansen is working with Michael Rios, an urban design professor at UC Davis. He suggests that the mall would be more inviting to bicyclists and pedestrians if the broad avenue were narrowed to one lane in each direction. City planners would have to make sure that vehicle flow isn’t affected too much, though there isn’t a whole lot of traffic.
It’s very early in the process. Plans must be refined. It’s not clear where the money required – which could be in the tens of millions – would come from.
But there’s no better time to make concrete progress. The downtown arena is set to open in October, and several commercial and residential projects are underway or planned – even at the notorious “hole in the ground” at Third Street and Capitol Mall. It also helps that Crocker Museum is on board to spruce up its nearby park, and perhaps adjacent land leading to the mall.
For a true renaissance downtown, the Capitol Mall has to flourish. Its potential is obvious every time the mall is the site of a community event, including the annual Farm-to-Fork and Capitol Beer festivals, the Tour of California bicycle race or a Sacramento Kings fundraiser in 2013.
Why can’t the mall be more like that most every weekend? With some imagination, commitment and money, it can be.