While Mayor Kevin Johnson, the City Council and a good chunk of the media are focused on the fate of the Sacramento Kings, a group of renegade entrepreneurs in downtown has decided that, arena or no arena, basketball team or not, they are going to start pushing to improve the neighborhood where they work and live.
You may already have heard of Turn Downtown Around, a community group made up of business owners and downtown residents, mostly in their 20s and 30s. The group is still informal at this point but it has a vibrant Facebook page and big ambitions.
I recently had the chance to meet with about a dozen people who say they’re committed to the group and its mission. We’ll be featuring a few of them as part of a new series on Sac Press about people in their 20s and 30s who have decided that they want to make their mark in Sacramento, and help transform this city for the better.
It has to start with Carina Lampkin, the chef and owner of Blackbird Restaurant and Bar, and one the lead organizers of TDA and, while she hasn’t formally adopted the title, its founder. She has worked with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership to put together the group’s first event, the Downtown Beer Bust, an "evening of local food, beer, art and music" occurring at the Downtown Plaza on March 14. Tickets cost $35 in advance, $40 at the door, and proceeds will benefit The Downtown Sacramento Foundation’s Downtown Mural Project in The Kay district. The project aims to commission 14 local artists to paint murals on the wooden barrier that blocks of the vacant, city owned lot at the corner of 8th and K streets.
We’ll be have more on the Beer Bust on Sac Press, but you can get all the details on the event’s Facebook page here.
First, we wanted to hear from Lampkin about her goals for TDA, and what she hopes the event and mural project will accomplish. The 8th block of K is of particular concern to her – Blackbird is just a block away, on 9th Street between J and K Streets, and she hopes that the murals will be the first step in the larger process to revitalize the eastern end of K Street, and has taken the same approach with the walls around her resturant.
We spoke by phone last Friday, and oddly enough, John F. Kennedy came up twice.
Sac Press: Why did you think it was necessary to start Turn Downtown Around?
Carina Lampkin: I just don’t feel like there was enough movement. The government is broke and they’re also responsible for all the bad decisions that lead us to where we are today. I think planning and creativity need to come from the citizens because they live here and they know the culture and they know the needs of where they live. It’s not people living three counties away in the suburbs, not the baby boomer generation.
SP: While it’s not exclusive to any age group, to what extent do you think TDA is trying to be the voice of a younger generation of business owners and professionals downtown?
CL: Well, I think a lot of decisions are made by the Sacramento Metro Chamber and I don’t think there’s more than two people who were born after the Kennedy assassination. So we have all these baby boomers still calling the shots. Meanwhile they won’t come down here because they don’t want to pay for parking. Zoning ordinances need to be changes, slumlords need to be harassed, developers need to be enticed, and I think Sacramento needs more of an identity.
SP: Downtown faces a lot of challenges. What are your first priorities as an organization?
CL: The eighth block of K. I want to see it turned around by 2015 or 2014, not 2020, and if they are going to get a developer, I want to see the developer with a site plan within a year.
SP: What’s the relationship between Turn Downtown Around and The Downtown Partnership?
CL: The Downtown Partnership knows all of the district supervisors, the chief of police, they work on making the city safer and recruiting business and I think TDA can be essential to them by just rallying the troops, raising money and getting people motivated. Our role is to get citizens to imagine change, and then actually get up, turn off the television and come do something.
SP: What would you say to people that hear talk like that and scoff?
CL: So, what did you do yesterday for your town? Kinda like Kennedy, "Ask not what we can do for you, but what you can do for us." I would say "Lend a hand, not a poor opinion. Get up and help, don’t hate.”
SP: Where would you like to see downtown in five years?
CL: The west side of K Street has always been known as the west-end K, and it’s always been slummy. I would like it to look sexy like the east end of K. There is the beautiful water-fountain put there by David Taylor when he first redeveloped that in the early 200s. Then as you go down there is the beautiful Crest Theater with the neon lights, there is the sushi bar, there is Kay Bar, there is the Pizza Rock development. Where I’m at, 9th through 5th. There are two vacant properties that the city owns, so those need to be activated. I think we could definitely use a few art museums or galleries and more housing for this area.
If Kings leave, that mall needs to be re-developed and we need to recruit local retailers that have an eye for design and some national retailers that are just in the zeitgeist – like American Apparel needs to be down here, Apple needs to be down here. We need more amenities too – a yoga studio downtown would be fantastic. And art everywhere.
SP: The proceeds from the Beer Bust will go toward commissioning artists to paint murals at the corner of 8th and K Streets. How will that help turn downtown around?
CL: Putting the murals up is just a way to kind of ignite the fire, create a conversation with the community to add interest and bring people downtown. It also acts as urban camouflage, putting bandaids over things that look ugly, but if we look beyond, once we all notice that it’s ugly, we can imagine change, and once we imagine something, we can make it happen, but we just have to get everybody dreaming.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED