Back-Seat Driver

The state wants the ‘best-looking’ garage in Sacramento. Is that an oxymoron?

Construction is blocking a handful of downtown streets. R Street businesses remain open.
Construction is blocking a handful of downtown streets. R Street businesses remain open.

The state of California is soliciting public opinion this month on designs for a major new garage with a grandiose goal: They want it to be the best-looking garage in Sacramento.

The planned $30 million structure at Eighth and R streets will have 800 parking spots for state workers. An old warehouse on site will be demolished next spring, and the garage would open the following year.

The state has published an online survey, essentially asking downtowners and state workers for their personal design taste: What kind of “skin” should the building have? Brick, or maybe textured metalwork, or perhaps wood accented by steel? Do you want bold colors or subtle? What kind of artwork should the state commission – something serious or fun, a sculpture, a mural or collage?

(The survey is at

The structure will include a row of businesses along its R Street facade. The state’s goal is to design that frontage to fit the emerging R corridor aesthetic, a kind of post-industrial chic.

“We’re looking to make this thing the best-looking garage in Sacramento,” said Todd Leon of the Capitol Area Development Authority. “Some would say that is an oxymoron, but you have to have some goal.”

R Street is closed ... but not really

As part of the transformation on the R Street corridor, the city and CADA just launched an $8 million streetscape redo on several blocks. But the sidewalk and road closures have caused consternation among R Street businesses who are fearful the work will scare customers away.

“It’s a bit of a war zone,” said Bay Miry, owner of several buildings on the 1400 block, which includes Shady Lady Saloon, Burgers and Brew and the upcoming chicken-based restaurant and bar dubbed Bawk (the sound a chicken makes).

Miry and other business leaders are working on keeping the businesses accessible during construction and letting customers know those businesses are open.

A few feet from the rat-a-tat of jackhammers on concrete, a sign outside the Shady Lady bar on R Street last week cajoled customers: “We are open! … Come inside.”

Restaurateur Josh Nelson and partners plan to open Bawk early next year despite the construction work – but also because of it.

“What the city and CADA have done laying the foundations has been important,” Nelson said. “You have the most creative developers in the region who have planted flags there. There is a concentration of creativity. ”

You can’t get there from here

In fact, streets are being ripped up and blockaded all over central Sacramento this month as crews rush to finish street repairs, sewer construction, highway patches and railroad crossings before winter rains hit.

▪ The city has given the Sacramento Kings the OK to close two blocks of Fifth Street downtown to build several restaurants and stores next to Macy’s at about K Street. That closure could last several months.

▪ Sewer work nearby continues on several downtown blocks, requiring lane closures to allow tunneling.

▪ The city also has given developers the OK to block lanes on several key streets, including 19th at J Street, to allow apartment construction.

▪ Union Pacific is ripping up and replacing concrete and tracks, street by street, at 30 central Sacramento crossings, blocking each street in succession to do the work. Each week, a different set of commuters is sent scurrying to other routes.

It all prompts the question: Is this the new norm?

Residents of New York, San Francisco and other major cities long ago got used to turning the corner and finding streets closed due to some form of construction. It’s the price of a healthy economy.

Sacramento residents are learning it’s smart to load the Waze app, Google Maps or QuickMap onto their smartphones, and check their route before they head through town.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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