Kevin Johnson was hailed a hero a few years back when his 40 Acres development opened in Oak Park. The restored theater, art gallery, barbershop and Starbuck’s coffee shop replaced a derelict old hotel and brought new life to Oak Park’s long-depressed business district.
Unfortunately, the development did not kick start an Oak Park renaissance. Other Johnson-owned properties remain boarded up. His development company has been assessed more than $32,000 in fines and fees for failing to keep up some buildings. Activists complain he’s not moving fast enough.
By way of explanation, Johnson points to a stately old Victorian his development company restored in 2001 for half a million dollars. After six years it still sits empty. Johnson can’t find tenants willing to take a chance on Oak Park.
Still there are signs of progress. Sacramento architect Ron Vrilakas recently built a lofts/live/work project just down the street from Johnson’s 40 Acres development. Vrilakas said he took a chance because Johnson’s 40 Acres was there first.
Certainly, Johnson has not fixed all that’s broken in his old neighborhood, but I believe Oak Park is better off today because he came home.
Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.