After months of debate, the city of Sacramento is finally settling on a plan to build a more robust entertainment and convention district at the eastern edge of downtown.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a new construction timeline and design plan for expanding the Sacramento Convention Center. The council supported adding a large ballroom to the plans and allowing the convention center to be closed for 18 months so work can be done quicker than initially planned.
The convention center renovation would begin in early 2019 and continue into the fall of 2020. The total cost of the project won’t be known until March.
The city is planning to renovate the adjacent Community Center Theater at the same time after receiving updated architectural drawings of the revamped theater this month.
A third piece is a planned hotel.
According to a draft Environmental Impact Report released last month, the city anticipates a 350-room hotel at the site of a current parking lot at 15th and K streets, just east of the convention center. The 24-story hotel would stand 300 feet tall and include a pedestrian bridge to the convention center and an outdoor pool, according to the environmental report.
A hotel developer has not been named. Desmond Parrington, the city’s project manager on the convention center expansion, said he expects the hotel project to move forward once the City Council signs off on financing for the convention facility expansion in March.
Hotel and tourism leaders are in the early stages of discussing a way to contribute to the more aggressive work plan, likely through a tax placed on hotel rooms. Mike Testa, head of the Visit Sacramento tourism agency, told City Council that a financing proposal could be available by February. Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other city officials have previously said they will also seek a naming rights deal to help with what could be a $200 million theater and convention center remake.
The new layout of the convention center would allow for multiple events at the same time, allowing Sacramento to compete with convention space in other West Coast cities of a similar size.
“It’s going to be painful for 18 months, but the finished product will be very well worth it,” Testa said.
While the new ballroom will likely add millions of dollars to the cost, the city is confident the added expense will be offset by shaving 16 months off the construction timeline and by increases in hotel tax revenue generated by larger and more frequent conventions, Parrington said.
When the convention center is closed, Visit Sacramento expects to book conventions at other venues around the city. Possible sites include Sleep Train Arena, Cal Expo and Golden 1 Center.
The city initially proposed a large, $170 million expansion for the convention center last year. But Steinberg convinced his colleagues on the City Council to accept a scaled-down plan so that a portion of the hotel tax could subsidize tourism-related projects along the Sacramento riverfront and other areas of the city.
Steinberg, who continues to push his Destination Sacramento fund for tourist projects, said the latest strategy “is the right direction.”
“This work is not done by any means,” the mayor said. “Before we go final, final, final we are going to need a real accounting of what resources we have and how they match up with what we want to do (to fund other destination projects).”
Convention Center employees have expressed some angst over the city’s renovation plans. The City Council has been receptive to those concerns, and city staff is looking at how to keep workers employed during the 18-month shutdown.
“The possibility of shutting down the Convention Center for over a year certainly would bring hardship to those who work there,” said Ty Hudson with Unite Here Local 49, the union representing local hotel and food service workers. “Additional measures and additional thought will need to be taken to protect those folks’ jobs and livelihood.”