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New report offers ‘road map’ for development at downtown railyards

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The best things Sacramento could do to bring the downtown railyards to life and spur greater development would be to start small and build from the inside out, some say.

That’s the message in a new report from the Urban Land Institute about the potential in the railyards, and it was the topic of a recent Sac Press Live interview with John Hodgson, president of the Hodgson Company and a member of the Urban Land Institute.

Hodgson talked about the ULI report as a roadmap for development in the railyards. It includes recommendations to build incrementally, create interconnected, mixed-use neighborhoods and start with inexpensive interim uses to draw people and develop interest in the railyards.

A number of ideas have been floated for developing the downtown railyards – not the least of which was the recent push to build an entertainment and sports complex on the 240-acre site.

But the ULI report offers neither support nor opposition to an arena, and Hodgson said there is “no silver bullet,” however, he suggested that such a venue could be a successful part of development in the railyards to get the best long-term benefit for Sacramento and the region.

“I think it is an absolutely spectacular idea,” Hodgson said. “We need to create an opportunity for special uses, and the arena could still be an important asset. We need to create the blueprint, though.”

Transformation at the railyards has already begun: A new pedestrian walkway to new railway platforms opened Aug. 13, and renovations on older train station buildings are also in the works. But building out the entire 240-acre site isn’t going to happen overnight, Hodgson said – primarily because it would be too expensive. So, development at the railyards should happen incrementally, and at the same time the plan should create connected, symbiotic neighborhoods

“You have to do this a half block at a time,” Hodgson said. “You can’t put all your residential in one area and all your commercial in another. Midtown is a good example of a diverse mix of uses that makes it a vibrant area of Sacramento. The whole point is you need to create a series of neighborhoods.”

Although Hodgson said he believes an entertainment and sports complex would be a catalyst for further development, there are smaller, more immediate things the city could do to create interest in the railyards and, potentially, lure investors. Some ideas Hodgson suggested include opening some of the historical buildings on the site as museums or opening portions of the railyards site as places for smaller events and social gatherings.

“Have fundraisers out there,” Hodgson said. “Have special events. It has unbelievable potential. The point here is get people out there, and get them to enjoy the space.”

The new ULI report is the result of an intensive, three-month study of the railyards and surrounding areas to determine the potential for the site – but it does not create an ordinance or a mandate for the city, Hodgson said, so the future of the railyards is still largely unwritten.

“With the railyards, you have a new landscape that you can begin to develop and paint a new picture,” Hodgson said.

Read the ULI report here.

Urban Land Institute Railyards ReportMelissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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