Railyards Finally Breaks Ground; Will Market Support It?

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, April 23, 2009


Most construction projects use a few shovels.  This one?  How ‘bout a bulldozer?
Totah: “We felt using a shovel would not be the appropriate tool to use.” 
Suheil Totah is with the project’s developer, Atlanta-based Thomas Enterprises.
Totah: “This is breaking ground on a site that’s as large as the entire central business district.  So we pulled out probably the biggest piece of equipment out here.” 
The crowd was equally large – a hundred construction workers, on top of dozens of state and local officials.  That’s because the Railyards is, quite frankly, a big deal.

The city has spent decades trying to develop the 240-acre site.  It’s currently a barren wasteland that looks out of place between downtown skyscrapers and the more suburban-like Natomas area north of the American River.  Now, after years of fundraising, bureaucratic hurdles and toxic cleanup at the site, the project is finally ready to go.  Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson:
Johnson: “What major downtown anywhere in the country can double its size with one big project?  We need to recognize the opportunity we have before us.  And right now, I think what’s most pressing is dollars flowing so we can put people to work.” 
It’s a mixed-use development – with retail, office space, apartments, condos and museums.  There’s even room set aside for a new Sacramento Kings arena if the plans for one at Cal Expo fall through.  But the dean of Sac State’s business school, Sanjay Varshney, says there’s no guarantee all those new buildings will fill up.
Varshney: “If you just say, oh by the way, let’s build it and they will come, right?  I’m not sure that approach necessarily is going to have huge success, because it’s speculative at this point – especially in this very huge economic downturn, with the real estate markets really going through a major crisis.” 
Varshney says it’s up to the city of Sacramento to make sure the rest of downtown is compelling enough to make the Railyards desirable.
The groundbreaking is just for a few roads and bridges.  Construction of the actual buildings won’t start for a couple of years.  The first phase is expected to open up around 18 months after that.