Downtown Sacramento’s most blighted - and embarrassing - block is about to go upscale

As block after block of downtown Sacramento has sprung to life, one blighted and abandoned area has remained an embarrassment to city leaders and a dead zone in the heart of the downtown’s robust economy.

Now, J Street between 10th and 11th streets appears on the cusp of new life.

A Canadian development company is proposing a seven-story mixed-use structure with 153 apartments on upper floors, and new retail space on the ground floor. And city leaders say they are delighted.

Called Anthem Cathedral Square, proposed by Anthem Properties, the project will wrap around onto 11th Street, diagonally opposite from the front of Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

It will replace the four largely empty and outdated buildings that cover more than half of the block. Two of the three buildings that will remain are in use. One holds a longtime tenant, Rodney’s Cigar and Liquor store. That sits next to a pho restaurant and Dads sandwich shop.

The proposed Anthem Cathedral Square project would consist of 153 housing units and ground floor retail on J Street, between 10th and 11 streets, in downtown Sacramento. HRGA Architecture, Anthem

Downtown Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who put public pressure on previous property owners to either build or sell the site, has been working with new owner Anthem Properties on designs for housing on the site, just blocks from the state Capitol and City Hall.

He calls the proposal an “extreme makeover” that should serve as a catalyst for redevelopment of other blighted properties on and near that block. Hansen has been highly critical of former property owners and others who let properties sit empty for years while waiting and hoping to build high-rises that never seem to pencil out in Sacramento’s economy.

“This is my top priority for Anthem,“ Hansen said on Friday. Anthem also owns developable property at 15th and S streets. “We need forward progress on this site. Not sugar plum dreams of skyscrapers. We need more apartments. So a mid-rise is really appropriate. The model is perfect for J Street and it is something our market does support.”

Speaking recently to The Sacramento Bee, Anthem executives said the project is just the first of many they hope to build here.

“We believe in Sacramento,” said Riaan Debeer, vice president of development for the Vancouver company. “With what is happening in the downtown, we see this as a long-term relationship with Sacramento, a first step in what we believe will be many more projects.”

Debeer said his company looked at building a 20-story high rise on J Street, but it simply was too expensive. At six stories of apartments, the new proposal would still be a big project for Sacramento and a giant of a building on a block where neighboring structures are two to three stories tall.

Anthem wants the apartments to be mid-range of market rate so they will be affordable to more people.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Anthem’s interest in Sacramento is an example of the city’s rise as an economic draw.

“The confidence is high about what we are doing in Sacramento. One big success begets a lot more successes. Investors are looking at our city and saying this is the place to do business.”

The other side of J Street remains untouched. Hansen said the city is pushing for a project at three empty buildings and an empty lot there.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.