City launches downtown depot makeover

Sacramento’s downtown train depot once was a center of Sacramento life. Residents came for white tablecloth dinners in the west hall. When presidents made whistle-stop tours, this is where the public caught a glimpse. Downtown parades marched to the building’s front door, and tens of thousands of Sacramentans worked in the railyard out back.

The depot, now known as the Sacramento Valley Station, remains important. It’s the seventh-busiest train station in the country. But the impressive brick and terra cotta structure has been physically declining for decades. Most of the building’s side rooms, including the old dining hall, and upstairs offices are abandoned and in disrepair.

Next month, Sacramento city officials intend to change that with a $34 million rehabilitation project they say could turn the 88-year-old building into a modern version of the people place it once was. That two-year project includes tens of thousands of square feet of new offices and retail spaces, as well as a patio, a cafe and possibly a restaurant.

Officials gathered Friday in the old dining room, beneath an ornate but handless clock high on the wall, to celebrate the building’s possibilities.

“Our historical roots are here,” said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. “Not only are we breathing life into this historic depot, but this project will be preparing us for regional growth and urban renaissance. It will probably be one of the most beautifully restored stations in the country.”

The city, which bought the dilapidated building and 24 surrounding acres in 2006, recently spent $10 million to bring it up to modern earthquake standards in preparation for the makeover.

The building will maintain its historic role as a train depot, officials said. The building’s potential new uses remain uncertain. Project manager Greg Taylor, a city architect, said the city will be putting out a call soon for help in figuring out what types of non-depot uses are suitable, and for assistance in marketing the site.

“The station ... has to carry itself financially,” Taylor said. “We are looking to pay for the cost of operating the building.”

Part of the upcoming project will involve improving passenger services and flow. The existing Amtrak ticket booths will be moved to the west side of the building, allowing the city to reopen the original row of exit doors out the back. Plans call for a patio and outdoor cafe in back. For the first time, the building will get air conditioning.

Nearly half of the $34 million for the next phase will come from a federal transportation grant, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant program, a part of the federal government’s economic and jobs stimulus program. Other funds will come from Sacramento transportation sales taxes and state grants.

City officials say the infusion of public funds is warranted for a historic building that sits in a key spot downtown and will serve a major public role. About 1.5 million people are expected to come through the doors annually in the next decade, to and from Amtrak or Capitol Corridor trains. A state high-speed rail train station may someday be built next door. A light-rail train line to the airport will stop at the depot.

Once the current renovation project is finished, city officials say they hope to begin developing the open space between the depot and the train platforms a few hundred feet away. That could include more passenger-related features, such as a ticketing facility.