Marcos Bretón

Opinion: A young man revives Sacramento’s old downtown

Bay Miry, standing in the 700 block of K Street, is part of a new generation of builders who are remaking downtown Sacramento. Among his many projects, Miry will remake the 700 block of K Street from eyesore to gateway to the new arena.
Bay Miry, standing in the 700 block of K Street, is part of a new generation of builders who are remaking downtown Sacramento. Among his many projects, Miry will remake the 700 block of K Street from eyesore to gateway to the new arena. rbenton@sacbee.com

The promise of downtown Sacramento is that it will be repopulated with young people who choose to live in the urban core and breathe life into the old town.

One young man is helping to make that promise reality. With stucco, wood and brick, he is building the places where these new city dwellers will live.

Bay Miry is not as well known yet as the generation of downtown developers who came before him: Mark Friedman, Sotiris Kolokotronis, David Taylor, Mike Heller and Paul Petrovich – all in their 50s now. At 33, Miry represents the next generation of Sacramento in both his background and business accomplishments.

Miry is the son of immigrants – in his case, from Iran. He was educated in Sacramento public schools, graduating from Rio Americano High School. He went to college in Berkeley and thought he would stay in the Bay Area until the tug of family and community lured him home.

“This is my home, where I grew up,” Miry said. “I love being part of the canvas. We’re part of helping the city grow. We’re contributing.”

In two weeks, demolition will begin on Miry’s project to reshape the dilapidated 700 block of K Street – until now a relic of a dead downtown but soon the gateway to the downtown arena.

Miry’s company helped remake R Street into a flowering warehouse district of clubs and restaurants. By spring, he will begin filling his six-story, environmentally friendly Powerhouse apartment building across from Fremont Park. He revamped the old Sterling Hotel.

A hallmark of Miry’s work has been reviving dead spaces and creating new, urban communities. He’s done it by retaining the classic look of old buildings but fashioning the insides with 21st-century amenities.

Miry, born in 1981, just missed being a millennial. But his upbringing imbued him with an old-school sensibility.

His dad left his old life behind when the late 1970s revolution in Iran scuttled his plan to take his American education back home.

Like so many immigrants, David Miry poured the courage needed to abandon his old life into his new one. Miry got the business bug from his dad and his dad’s partner, Steve Lebastchi.

That was the foundation, but traveling extensively and living as an undergraduate in Berkeley informed Bay Miry’s penchant for a trademark fusion of old, new and urban. “When I went to Berkeley, I started to fall in love with this mixed-use urban lifestyle and didn’t even know it,” said Miry on a crisp morning last week

With his partners, Miry’s company will build 137 units of housing in now-shuttered buildings in the 700 block of K Street – buildings with doorways that have reeked of urine for years.

Miry is preserving the classic facades of the faded K Street buildings in a project scheduled to be completed in late 2016. He’s going to restore the groovy vibe embodied in the psychedelic mural on the front of what used to be a Tower Records at Seventh and K.

Perhaps an Apple Store or an Urban Outfitters will move into the old Tower Records space. It will operate next to a row of Sacramento restaurateurs, coffee makers and saloon keepers. There will be tables on the sidewalks like a European plaza – all in the shadow of the new arena.

Visiting K Street last week, it was hard to visualize how one of the most disappointing blocks of downtown Sacramento could soon become a hub of urban life. But there was Miry, plans in hand, speaking with the passion that persuaded the city of Sacramento to choose his project in 2010 over proposals from other developers.

“The biggest thing you see is the impact these projects have on the community,” he said.

Most of the more than $50 million being invested in the project is private, a huge selling point for the city. Miry’s Powerhouse apartment complex on 16th, across from Fremont Park, was also financed largely with private funding.

Miry’s company works with local banks, contractors and subcontractors. A frequent partner is another one of Sacramento’s rising young business people, Ali Youssefi. The two once jetted off together to South Africa to catch World Cup soccer. Miry is friends with the proprietors of Shady Lady, Insight Coffee and Magpie Café – all tenants in his various ventures.

They are creating a community of young doers at the same time that Sacramento as a whole is becoming more self-confident. In the next decade, they look to be part of a generation that returns to the downtown – a movement encouraged by Mayor Kevin Johnson at his State of the City address on Thursday, when Johnson laid out a city goal of building 10,000 new housing units in 10 years.

Why not?

“We’re growing up and learning as a community,” Miry said. “There are a lot of exciting developers and artists here now … I love my city.”

Social pundits often accuse people Miry’s age of being disconnected and disaffected. Miry’s work debunks that generalization. He’s drawn to buildings and projects that bring people together. He knows about the lives of the stucco guys working on his building, the bartender at Ella, the bankers at Farmers and Merchants Bank of Central California.

His dad built his business with the gas stations and strip malls that define much of suburban Sacramento, a place where people decades ago fled from the crowded urban scrum.

Bay Miry’s work is all about the scrum: the crowded tables of people eating, drinking, living and working in close proximity. From the sweeping windows of a sixth-floor penthouse apartment at Powerhouse, Fremont Park becomes a lush green vista presenting urban Sacramento in the best possible light.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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