Sacramento City Council approves $47 million for Old Sacramento waterfront development

The Sacramento City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to fully fund a proposal to revamp Old Sacramento, approving up to $47 million in hotel tax revenue to fund the project.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s plan to revitalize the waterfront calls for several additions, including a lawn, a concert stage, two rooftop bars, an interactive water fountain and other features.

The project aims to improve access to the waterfront and create a series of new venues for weekly events to draw residents and visitors to Old Sacramento much more frequently than a couple times a year, Steinberg said.

The $47 million comes from a financing plan Steinberg helped broker for renovations to the Sacramento Convention Center, Community Center Theater and Memorial Auditorium. The money can only be used for projects that improve public gathering spaces, according to city code.

“For many decades, the people of Sacramento have dreamt about making our waterfront more accessible to the people and more of a destination,” Steinberg said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “And we’ve been thwarted for a long time, mostly because of a lack of resources and maybe the lack of a sufficient push.”

Riverfront project manager Richard Rich outlined six main projects that are planned for the waterfront, with a total budget estimated at $39 million:

  • A two-story building on Front Street where the North Public Market now stands with an open colonnade on the first floor for events and commerce and a second level overlooking the river, to cost about $10 million.
  • A festival lawn, which could seat about 5,000 people during concerts and other events, to cost about $5 million.
  • A playground-like area meant for kids’ play in the day and adult fun at night. Rich said it would be “full of sound and light and maybe an ice cream cone.” The cost is estimated at $6 million.
  • An interactive water fountain with a possibility for light shows, to cost about $4 million.
  • A floating terrace on the river with room for mingling by the water, performance spaces and possibly swimming spots, to cost about $10 million.

  • An event deck built atop the Sacramento History Museum for performances and picnicking, to cost about $4 million.

Concepts and costs may change and develop as the project moves forward, Rich said.

Annual tax revenue from Old Sacramento — which is currently around $700,000 between sales and hotel taxes — could potentially more than double with the proposed additions to the waterfront, Rich said.

The proposal was informed by the Waterfront Idea Makers contest, a program from last month that invited residents to vote on new waterfront improvement designs and drew nearly 10,000 responses.

Councilman Steve Hansen said he wanted the city to consider putting some of the money toward the area just outside Old Sacramento, including a Hanami Line of cherry trees at Matsui Waterfront Park and other opportunities just west of the Crocker Art Museum.

“It’s not lost on me that if you go to the Sacramento History Museum, you see Governor Reagan at the time celebrating the revival of Old Sacramento, and it’s probably been since that time that we’ve had this type of investment,” Hansen said.

Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.