City Beat

Should Sacramento have its own version of the St. Louis arch? City eyes grand monument

What kind of monument would say Sacramento?

Mayor Darrell Steinberg and old town business leaders say they want to turn the area into a bigger draw year-round – the kind of place Northern Californians will come to even when the in-laws aren’t in town. As part of this push, the city is consi
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Mayor Darrell Steinberg and old town business leaders say they want to turn the area into a bigger draw year-round – the kind of place Northern Californians will come to even when the in-laws aren’t in town. As part of this push, the city is consi

Is Sacramento’s version of the famed Gateway Arch coming to the riverfront?

As the city embarks on a reinvention of Old Sacramento and the waterfront, the man leading the effort thinks the city should build an interactive monument on the river at the site of the city’s birth.

Richard Rich, the city’s riverfront manager, will ask the City Council on Tuesday to form a committee of artists, business leaders and others to explore how a large monument could be funded and built at Front and K streets in Old Sacramento. It’s early in the process, but one idea Rich is floating is a work that shoots steam – as if from a locomotive – drawing crowds like Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park.

Rich – who used to be a Disney creative thinker, called an “imagineer” – is thinking big. The structure should be so grand in scale that it becomes a symbol for the city like nearby Tower Bridge, he said, and iconic in the way the Gateway Arch is for St. Louis or the space needle is in Seattle.

Rich says the monument should celebrate the city’s rail history. The Central Pacific railroad broke ground near Front and K streets in 1863 for the western portion of the transcontinental railroad.

The monument idea will be part of a broader presentation by Rich laying out 60 “opportunity sites” along the riverfront between the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, and Miller Park. But his focus will be Old Sacramento.

“The idea is that we have an asset there now that is under performing but has the potential of being an incredible destination and economic driver,” Rich said. “So then the question is, ‘How do you access that potential?’ ”

Money for the riverfront and Old Sacramento improvements would likely come from what is being called the “Destination Sacramento” fund.

These landmarks tower over their cities to achieve iconic status. A new proposal calls for a grand monument, yet to be designed, for Old Sacramento that could match the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the Space Needle in Seattle.

City officials have said $22 million in hotel taxes will be available in that fund thanks to a decision by the City Council earlier this year to approve a scaled-down renovation plan of the Sacramento Convention Center. Another $20 million or more could flow into the fund in future years through increased hotel taxes generated by a boost in convention business and a 350-room hotel planned next to the renovated Convention Center.

The council will begin debating how to spend the destination fund later this summer. But the riverfront already has one big booster in Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“Many ideas have been bandied about over the years, but they’ve all been part of a ‘wouldn’t it be great’ list,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg said Old Sacramento, the area around the long-delayed Powerhouse Science Center and the small neighborhood of hotels and gas stations on Jibboom Street north of Old Sacramento should get attention.

“The riverfront is not necessarily the only place where we might want to invest those destination funds, but it’s certainly first for me,” the mayor said.

Rich has a list of projects in Old Sacramento that he said could be delivered quickly for between $10 and $15 million. And he wants to start with the basics.

That could mean hiring artists to liven up the unwelcoming I Street automobile entrance into the district and installing more lighting in the pedestrian tunnel running under Interstate 5. There’s a drab plot of grass on Front Street called Waterfront Park that could be spruced up with an adventure playground and carousel, driving families visiting the railroad museum to the other side of Old Sacramento.

The public market buildings along Front Street should be redesigned to allow pedestrians to see the river. Rich thinks floating barges sometime should be installed along the shore, drawing visitors to the water to listen to music, drink wine and eat.

And then there’s the idea that Rich keeps removing from his plans, only to bring it back every time he’s asked about it: a giant Ferris Wheel on the river, much like those found in Seattle and London.

The city started a major renovation project in Old Sacramento on Monday, breaking ground on a $7.7 million reconstruction of the aged wooden plank boardwalk. The new stamped concrete boardwalk will be accessible for people with disabilities and should be open by November.

“Sacramento’s backyard is getting remodeled,” said Stephanie Miller, whose family owns the Rio City Safe on the riverfront.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg (front-center) joins members of the local arts community and the Sacramento Mandarins drum line in a performance outside the R Street Warehouse Artist Lofts on Wednesday during an event asserting the city's suppo

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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