The Conversation

Big-city transplant connects with River City

Jessica Kriegel rides her sidecar-equipped motorcycle in Sacramento this month.
Jessica Kriegel rides her sidecar-equipped motorcycle in Sacramento this month. rbenton@sacbee.com

Fifth in an occasional series

Basketball great Michael Jordan once recalled his visits to Sacramento as so dull that he would need to order room service after games because all the restaurants had closed by the time he showered and put on his street clothes.

Things have changed since Jordan’s playing days. But a problem remains: Sacramento has a pervasive image problem, which is often perpetuated by River City natives themselves. Despite Sacramento’s vibrancy, some of the least enthusiastic Sacramentans I know are those who have lived here the longest.

I moved here eight years ago after living most of my life in New York, London, Paris and Milan. I moved to Sacramento for love. But I had trepidations, not because of the man or the city, but because of what native Sacramentans were telling me about their own city.

I tried to make it work. I moved downtown, started a meetup.com group, enrolled in an academic program at Drexel. But as many transplants know, it takes time.

My love affair with the city didn’t truly begin until one day during the Sacramento Kings’ “Here We Stay” campaign. Passions were aroused. Pride was invigorated.

On this particular day, we were all asked to wear purple. I wasn’t a basketball fan, but I liked the enthusiasm and to be a part of it I put on a purple blouse. As I walked my dog around Roosevelt Park, I saw a man wearing a purple tie. As we passed, we grinned, laughed and high-fived.

That was the moment when my eyes opened to what was in front of me. Big cities never sleep, but they never high-five either.

The Kings’ latest marketing campaign is “Sacramento Proud.” That tagline is not a hope; it’s a reality, well-researched through many focus groups. The Kings are tapping into what makes Sacramento what it is today.

Sacramento transplants are happy they came here, and natives are starting to figure out that they were lucky all along. Smart leaders and the farm-to-fork movement have transformed the nightlife and are creating a new reputation for our so-called cow town. We have a vibrant community here.

Or should I say “many vibrant communities.” There are incredibly cool pockets of Sacramento all over the grid. The R Street corridor, Broadway, the Kay, 16th Street, the Handle District, Oak Park, Old Sac, and it is spreading outward to West Sacramento, thanks to the architectural masterpiece that will be “The Barn.”

There is one thing that is still missing, and that is connectivity.

There are incredibly cool pockets of Sacramento all over the grid. ... There is one thing that is still missing, and that is connectivity.

My French cousins came to visit last year. We walked down the R Street corridor, across Capitol Park, down K Street, through Old Sac and along the River Walk. After seeing the best of downtown Sacramento, they asked: “But where is downtown?” In their eyes, Sacramento was a collection of disconnected city blocks.

To walk from Ella’s to the Grange, two of our best restaurants, we must walk down abandoned blocks on J Street. To walk from the Iron Horse Tavern to Bottle & Barlow, two of our newest bars, we must walk down seemingly abandoned industrial blocks on R street.

My favorite happy hour, House Kitchen and Bar, is in an office building on Capitol Avenue. The location is ideal on paper, but the only other spots nearby are Il Fornaio and Mortons, chain restaurants that give me the feeling they receive most of their revenue from corporate charge accounts.

The Barn on the river in West Sacramento will be the coolest place to grab a beer once it opens, but you will have to walk or bike past a big empty lot to get there.

For years, we have been talking about how the arena will change the face of downtown Sacramento. In some respects, it will create a hub for the downtown, but it will not fill in the gaps between the other hot spots. And we can’t rely on the developers to make up the difference.

We need to find a way to enable movement and connectivity in our great city. I believe the key is technology.

We are on our way. We’re finally getting high-tech parking meters that allow us to check in on our phones. The Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission produced a great virtual public art project in 2014 via Broadway Augmented. Visitors viewed 11 virtual artworks along Broadway through smartphone apps.

What about apps that tell us how many parking spaces are left in that garage? Or even more basic, Wi-Fi in the parks?

Hoping to make a difference, my business partner, Eric McIntosh, and I created an app for Sacramento to be released in March. We realized that, in this city, you need to know in advance where you are going. This isn’t a wandering town yet. You need to be told what the locals have discovered in a city that’s moving fast from what it was to what it is.

Our app highlights the hot spots and hidden gems sprinkled all over the city. We know Sacramento is great, but we also know it is not immediately obvious to the visitor or even longtime residents who come downtown from the suburbs.

We think “in the Sac” will make a difference. This app will highlight farm-to-fork fare, public art, coffee and great places to grab a drink, as well as events promoted through Sacramento365. It might even show a new generation of visiting basketball stars that there is life after 10 p.m.

Jessica Kriegel works for Oracle and is co-founder and chief executive officer of In the Sac. Jesskriegel@gmail.com

Jessica Kriegel

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