Marcos Breton: Arena plan sparking investment in Sacramento’s downtown core

It’s easy to miss the 10-story building at the gateway to downtown Sacramento. Like the downtown core itself, the Fruit Building at Fourth and J streets has lovely bones but has faded through the years. It’s not what it could be and that’s been a reality for too long.

But with the building having changed ownership late Monday, the plan now is to spend millions on making it a sleek office space where a creative class of entrepreneurs will set up shop in a hub of new urban activity.

Just down the street from where Sacramento is planning a new arena and entertainment center to house the Kings, developers Richard Rich and John Leonard hope to be at the forefront of a new era in downtown Sacramento.

They say their building’s proximity to the new arena and surrounding development has had a big impact on their plans.

“With the entertainment and sports complex, it becomes a perfect fit,” said Rich, formerly development director for Thomas Enterprises, the group that once owned the downtown railyard.

“With (the arena) new capital gets brought in to do things. It drives renewal … We’re in that first wave.”

According to sources, Rich, Leonard and their partners spent in the neighborhood of $4 million to buy the 99-year-old office building across the street from the Asian-inspired Wong Center.

The two said they have a $5 million budget to restore and fill a building that currently has a 41 percent occupancy rate.

“It’s the largest invisible building in Sacramento,” said Leonard, a longtime local developer. The same family has owned the Fruit Building for years. Though not an eyesore, it is not distinctive, considering it’s the first building you see when exiting Interstate 5 on J Street.

Its ground floor is vacant, a space the new owners hope to fill with a restaurant. But right now, there is not much more than bail bondsmen close by.

This is emblematic of what ails the core of downtown Sacramento – J, K and L streets. There has been much improvement on streets nearby, but the Downtown Plaza is a dead spot flanked by other dead spots.

Rich and Leonard plan to spend the next year transforming their corner by modernizing the building and making it attractive to young urban, creative professionals.

They see Bay Area firms and local ones moving in to innovate software technology or start a public relations firm. They see editors, writers and artists as tenants. “The new arena gives Sacramento a boost nationally,” Rich said. “Our building will be for people who want to be right in the middle of everything.”

This is news because it’s a tangible example of investors wanting to be part of a new downtown Sacramento and spending the money to do it. It’s also a happy development for a stretch of downtown in search of momentum and more investors to bring it to life.