On the south end of Elk Grove’s Old Town, a large, abandoned brick building is surrounded by chain-link fence and dried yellow grass, facing a paved road with no sidewalk. It’s not pretty. “Kind of run down” is the way Rachael Brown, Elk Grove’s economic development manger, puts it.
But in a couple of years, the property at 9676 Railroad St. is set to be transformed into a trendy restaurant, complete with a patio and parking nearby. And the neighboring grass fields and an adjacent abandoned building also are getting a makeover.
A building at 9699 Railroad St. is being turned into a restaurant/entertainment space, and the patch of empty land between the two buildings is becoming a mixed-use residential building.
These new developments are all part of Elk Grove’s plan to re-energize Old Town, the city’s historic district that lies on Elk Grove Boulevard, between Elk Grove-Florin Road and Waterman Road.
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Old Town Elk Grove was one of the first settlements in the greater Sacramento area, and many buildings in the area date back to the 1800s. But now, city leaders are attempting to push Old Town into the modern era, and turn the district into a bustling center of commerce and entertainment.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on that I think are hopefully going to take our Old Town to the next level,” said Patrick Hume, Elk Grove City Council member. “The vision is to provide a vibrant, business climate, geared towards nightlife.”
Among those initiatives? The City Council recently approved the sale of 9676 Railroad St. to D&S, the Sacramento-based company that’s also planning to build the restaurant-entertainment space down the block. The development firm plans on investing $20.6 million into a three-phase venture that will result in two restaurants and 88 apartment units.
Another historic building just north of the Railroad Street property was recently renovated and turned into a School of Rock, where children can go for music lessons.
“One of the things we’re trying to accomplish is really to put more there, give our residents greater opportunity to enjoy life here in Elk Grove, and not have to feel like they have to drive to other cities for dining and entertainment,” Hume said.
And in Old Town Plaza, an open-air site on the corner of Elk Grove Boulevard and Railroad Street, residents can rent out space to hold community events, attend concerts, and spend Sunday mornings browsing at a farmers market.
“We’ve done a lot of events that bring people down to that area, so that they might be exposed to businesses that they didn’t know were there,” Hume said.
The city wants all of this development to coax more people into spending their days and nights in Elk Grove’s Old Town. To Hume, the district’s ideal visitors are Elk Grove residents who live west of Highway 99 and don’t often make the trip east into the heart of Elk Grove, and people who live right outside Elk Grove who might have not had a reason to come into the city before.
To propel this goal into reality, the city is investing $5.8 million into public improvements, including constructing two new parking lots, adding a sidewalk, curb and gutter to Railroad Street. The city embarked on a similar venture in 2005, when it spent $6.3 million on improving the streetscape of Old Town.
D&S Development, which until now has worked mostly in Sacramento, reached out to the city of Elk Grove after seeing potential for development in the Old Town area. The company has a track record of working in historic districts - it has developed a mixed-use project and lofts in Old Sacramento and built several mid-rise apartment buildings in the city.
In a staff report, the Elk Grove City Council outlined its hope that the construction, among other things, acts as “a catalyst for additional private development in Old Town.” And according to Christopher Jordan, Elk Grove’s director of strategic planning and innovation, other development companies are starting to reach out.
“The market is saying: ‘what opportunities are there in Elk Grove?’” Jordan said.
But not everyone in Elk Grove is so excited about the developments in Old Town. Hume said he has heard from residents on the west side of Elk Grove who think that the money being used for Old Town would be better served going somewhere else.
And recently Hume read an online comment underneath a news article about the recent sale of the Railroad Street property. The commenter lives in west Elk Grove, and expressed displeasure about the sale, noting that she never went to Old Town.
Hume pointed out the irony: The commenter almost never came into Old Town, but the sale of the Railroad Street property is aimed at motivating people just like her to go there.
“Hopefully, when this is open, she’ll come over, try it out and have a different opinion.” he said.