Breathing new life, new energy into Capitol Mall

Sacramento’s “hole in the ground” could be replaced with a 30-story tower. It would have a landscaped terrace that would be accessible by pedestrians from Capitol Mall.
Sacramento’s “hole in the ground” could be replaced with a 30-story tower. It would have a landscaped terrace that would be accessible by pedestrians from Capitol Mall. CIM Group

After almost a decade of looking at a cordoned-off city block pocked with concrete pilings, Sacramentans might be tempted to think anything would be better than the infamous “hole in the ground” at Third and Capitol.

But Sacramento deserves more than just “anything.” The capital city deserves a building that’s an architectural draw, one that will raise eyebrows and stand in contrast to the glut of bland, boxy and, frankly, ugly government buildings that currently dot the downtown landscape.

Sacramento also deserves a downtown that’s teeming with people long after 5 p.m.

That’s why we were pleased to see the renderings for a proposed 30-story tower that, if all goes as planned, could begin rising from the site within two years.

Sleek and inspiring, the tower would include apartments, offices and first-floor retail space. The design incorporates an atrium and multiple grassy terraces, one of which would be open to the public and overlook the Sacramento River. There also will be plenty of parking, some of which could be used for Sacramento Kings games.

The developer, Los Angeles-based CIM Group, calls it a “very preliminary vision,” one that could shrink or grow depending on the interest from tenants. In L.A., the developer is known for revitalization projects such as the Hollywood & Highland Center near the Walk of Fame, which it spiffed up, and around Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

But whatever ends up rising from the hole in the ground, Avi Shemesh, CIM’s co-founder and principal, promises it will be iconic. It will be a building that Sacramento will be known for.

“We want this to be where you’re walking down the street, you’ll see a reason to go there,” Shemesh told The Bee’s Dale Kasler and an editorial board member.

That’s good. If Golden 1 Center represents the start of a new era of bolder, fresher development in the central city – one more example of where Sacramento wants to go, as opposed to where it has been – then the flagship site of Third and Capitol is a good place to build on the trend.

The block has been an eyesore since 2007, when investor CalPERS halted construction on a pair of condominium and hotel towers after the project ran into cost overruns.

Since then, Capitol Mall has continued to languish. The stretch of public green space between Tower Bridge and the Capitol should be a treasure. Instead it is underused and under-appreciated.

Pedestrians have little reason to go there, particularly on weekends or on weekday evenings when government offices are closed. The two lanes that line Capitol Mall are barely even used by cars.

A tower at Third and Capitol that houses residents, even if only in 100 small apartments, will help change that. As will the new arena, with its after-business-hours events, and the thousands of new housing units that Mayor Kevin Johnson has vowed will be built in the central city within 10 years.

Given this activity, we have high hopes that plans to redo Capitol Mall, turning it into a legitimate space for festivals and other major events, will actually happen this time.

Councilman Steve Hansen is working with a professor from UC Davis on design changes that call for a performance stage and for narrowing Capitol Avenue from two lanes to one lane in each direction between Third and Ninth streets.

Not far away, Crocker Museum is getting ready to launch its own redesign plan, which could include a new sculpture garden, an art-oriented children’s playground and a performance venue that would link the area to the riverfront and Capitol Mall. West Sacramento also has built several new housing projects near Raley Field, all within walking and cycling distance of Capitol Mall.

Real change is all about timing, and with projects like these approaching a critical mass, downtown Sacramento’s timing could finally be right.