City Beat

Whole Foods, school reopening signal downtown Sacramento growth

The Sacramento City Council approved plans for a new Whole Foods with 141 apartments on Thursday night.
The Sacramento City Council approved plans for a new Whole Foods with 141 apartments on Thursday night. Pappas Investments

If thousands of new residents truly are headed for Sacramento’s urban core in the years ahead, it appears they’ll have both another place to educate their children and another high-end option to buy groceries.

A pair of votes by separate elected bodies Thursday night will go a long way toward the goal of adding 10,000 units of housing to the central city over the next decade, city leaders said.

First, by a unanimous vote, the Sacramento City Council approved plans for a 41,000-square-foot Whole Foods grocery store in midtown. The highly anticipated project also includes 141 apartments in a new six-story building on the north side of L Street, between 20th and 21st streets, and will likely be the largest residential project built in the central city since the recession.

Around the same time the council made that vote, trustees of the Sacramento City Unified School District voted unanimously to reopen Washington Elementary School in midtown in fall 2016, three years after it was closed due to falling enrollment. The school at 18th and E streets will focus on attracting students living in the neighborhood, but will also seek to enroll students whose parents commute to Sacramento.

“This summer, we’ve seen a vision become a reality,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said. “With the two votes (Thursday), which will bring a supermarket, over 100 housing units and will reopen a school, we are transforming our downtown into a destination for people to live, work and play.”

Earlier this summer, Johnson launched the “In Downtown” housing initiative. The goal is to add 10,000 housing units to the grid by 2025, including 6,000 market rate homes that will attract prices similar to what the Whole Foods apartments are expected to draw. Another 2,500 units of affordable housing are in the plans, along with 1,500 places to house homeless individuals.

We are transforming our downtown into a destination for people to live, work and play.

Mayor Kevin Johnson

A large portion of that 10,000 had already been proposed or approved by the city before Johnson launched his public campaign. Still, several high-profile projects have advanced in recent weeks, giving city officials confidence that Sacramento’s urban core may finally be headed toward a transformation.

“We’re chugging toward an inflection point,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city and played a key role negotiating both the Whole Foods project and the Washington Elementary reopening. “The schools, the grocery stores – they reinforce our ability to get other projects downtown and to bring people here and families here to be successful.”

The grid has roughly the same number of people living in it today – about 30,000 – as it did in 1970, according to a Sacramento Bee review of census data. But the proportion of the city’s overall residents who live in the grid has fallen from about 11 percent to roughly 6 percent.

10,000Number of housing units city leaders want to add to Sacramento’s central city by 2025

The grid used to be a place where families frequently chose to raise children; about 3,200 children under age 15 lived there in 1970. By 2010, that number had fallen to 1,800.

Instead, the central city has become increasingly popular among young adults without children. The number of people in their 20s living in the grid rose from about 5,600 in 1970 to around 9,500 today.

Emilie Cameron, a policy and advocacy manager with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said the central city’s population will grow because “people want to live close to work, school, transit, restaurants, entertainment and cultural amenities.”

“People want to raise their kids in an urban environment, walk to the grocery store and enjoy the sustainable lifestyle that is unique to downtown,” she said.

There is evidence of that movement from one end of the central city to the other.

Construction is churning along on the 700 block of K Street, where restaurants, shops and 137 housing units are planned. The $507 million Sacramento Kings arena is 14 months from completion, and Kings officials have said they intend to begin construction of a 16-story hotel and condo tower adjacent to the arena soon.

Raley’s has announced it is looking for a spot downtown to build a small, specialty market; the chain could fill the former Greyhound bus terminal at Seventh and L streets.

R Street has seen a major influx of development, from the 116-unit Warehouse Artist Lofts to the Ice Blocks development of housing, retail and office space that is moving through the city approval process. More than 250 apartments have been built recently or are under construction along 16th Street. Sutter Health is opening a new $812 million hospital in midtown Saturday, just a few blocks from a spot along R Street where a new Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is being built.

Whole Foods had been scouting locations in midtown for years.

John Pappas of Pappas Investments, the project developer, said he anticipates construction will begin next spring. The grocery store should be completed by the end of 2017, with the apartments finished soon after that, he said.

The store will replace a two-story parking garage on L Street.

In addition to the Whole Foods, Pappas also plans to construct a six-story parking garage on an empty lot at 21st Street and Capitol Avenue. Construction of the garage will start soon to provide spaces for drivers who use the current garage.

No one spoke in opposition to the project at Thursday’s City Council meeting, and it was approved after a quick council discussion.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis. Bee staff writers Loretta Kalb and Phillip Reese contributed to this report.