Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Larry Kelley sees ‘high-paying jobs’ for Sacramento’s railyard

Larry Kelley is one of the most significant individual jobs creators in Sacramento today, but his next act may top it all.

You haven’t heard of Kelley? That’s by design, but you will.

When Major League Soccer officials toured Sacramento recently, there was the 69-year-old Texas-reared, Harvard MBA standing near Mayor Kevin Johnson amid the euphoria of the city’s bid to secure an MLS franchise. Kelley said a few words, and many of the young people in the audience likely had no idea who he was.

They will.

If Kelley has his way, and he’s gotten it for more than 20 years, the millennial generation of Sacramento may one day look to Kelley as the man who helped them make their fortune, or as the man who created opportunities that kept them in Sacramento as opposed to moving away.

Kelley is poised to take over the 240-acre downtown railyard by the end of the year. A property that has been talked about as the future of urban Sacramento is finally on the verge of morphing from toxic waste site to a blank canvas of Sacramento’s dreams.

During a Monday tour of the site with his partner and son, Denton, Kelley gave a one-word answer for what he sees as the future of the railyard: “Jobs … High-paying jobs.”

OK, that’s really three words. But if you asked the question of what Sacramento needs more than anything else in its future, it is high-paying jobs. They have been scarce in a local economy that remains flat.

Kelley envisions a thriving jobs sector in the downtown railyard. He sees housing for young people. He sees a large public market and an open public promenade that connects the railyard to the rest of Sacramento.

An MLS stadium would be a catalyst for more development, said a man with a track record for realizing what seem to some as far-fetched possibilities.

It was Kelley who converted McClellan Air Force base from military to civilian uses, while creating an estimated 15,000 jobs on the site. He built the massive Stanford Ranch planned community that swelled the population in Placer County. That’s a career, but Kelley views the railyard with even greater hope.

“You have to have a vision,” he said Monday. “We have great momentum in Sacramento right now.” With the downtown arena moving forward and with new life across the river in West Sacramento, the railyard becomes the essential piece to tie it all together.

Redeveloping the railyard never seemed real because the environmental cleanup and entitlements for the massive project seemed too daunting. The right person didn’t own the property, but now soon will. Entitlements are done; cleanup is moving forward.

Standing on the site with Kelley, you can see the possibilities. It’s not idle talk anymore. The future of Sacramento seems real.