By Chuck Roe
The highest goal of downtown redevelopment is to provide housing in the core. You will find this without fail in any set of downtown redevelopment goals. The obvious reason for building downtown housing is to support local businesses and add vitality. The less obvious is creating a group of residents who speak for the good of our downtown.
These downtown residents are the first to promote walkability, cleanliness, street and sidewalk repair, safety and more in the core area. They are an essential constituency that is largely missing in Davis because so few people are living downtown. They are especially concerned with neighborhood crime and add a 24-hour presence.
People of all backgrounds and demographic category want to live in our downtown, but our supply of residential units is extremely small.
Sustainable cities are dense in the core. This ideal is the bedrock of Davis planning documents. This planning goal has long been our answer to resisting urban sprawl.
Trackside Center is a proposed mixed-use building in downtown Davis at Third Street and the railroad tracks. As with other buildings that have been built in the past few years, it will have retail and a restaurant on the ground floor. Above, it will have one-, two- and three-bedroom, high-quality apartment residences. Unlike other projects, it proposes underground parking, a retail plaza and pedestrian-friendly alley improvements.
Any change is difficult and some will always say “somewhere else” or “some other time.” But if you walk around the downtown and look for opportunities to have a building with retail on the first floor and nearly 50 residences above, you won’t find many potential sites.
Also consider that you need a site large enough to support underground parking. Usually this would entail assembling multiple properties and without assurances of entitlements, the likelihood of which is slim.
The site must be both underused and have no historical designation. You also must have motivated and creative owners. It helps a lot if the owners are locals. These conditions pretty much describe Trackside and nowhere else.
With no other proposals on the horizon, it isn’t as if we can choose among a handful of potential options. This is our downtown’s best opportunity to add residents.
About 20 to 30 years ago when the traditional grocery stores and pharmacies left for the neighborhood commercial centers, we saw a great decline in our downtown. It was largely quiet in the evenings and held little interest to students or visitors. The Internet changed our buying habits and perimeter malls were irresistible to some. Large changes affected downtowns across America so we were not alone.
Fortunately, we have rebounded from that low point because we were able to change.
The downtown received investments from our now-defunct redevelopment district. Our community had money to build a public plaza, improve biking infrastructure and enhance the pedestrian experience. Parking garages were built. We made sure that all cinemas would be in our downtown and required banks to be downtown if they also wanted to be on the perimeter.
Private investments were made in new mixed-use buildings that began to bring new residents, more office workers and restaurants and retail. We saw our downtown change from mostly retail to a mostly entertainment and dining. An upwelling of art and live music has washed over our downtown.
Some may find it difficult to accept change but few who actually experienced it will be nostalgic for the less vibrant downtown of 20-plus years ago.
The common thread that ties all the rebounded and vibrant downtowns like Davis is the ability to change and adapt as times and eras change. Today, there is a resurgence in downtowns nationwide. No doubt, you have visited some. Young professionals, empty-nesters and downsize proponents want to leave the suburbs and live in the core of their town.
It has been many decades since a large segment of our population desired this urban life, and providing housing options for these groups is an opportunity we can’t overlook. How better to support and foster a healthy downtown than inviting people to live there?
So why build it now? Just a few years ago we saw an era when financing a private-sector project of this nature was almost impossible except for those large developers who were able to self-finance. Luckily, we are beyond that era and there is a group of more than 30 local investors ready to support Trackside. I’m proud to be a part of that investor group. The project’s management team is local and has long been active in our community.
We all want to create a landmark building that will bring more residents to our downtown. If we want to begin providing the downtown housing we’ve hoped for, then Trackside is our chance.
I am confident that our downtown can keep getting better. I also know that the ability to change and adapt to new conditions, opportunities and modern planning principles is our best hope to evolve as a great downtown.
We are a University of California community and UC Davis continues to evolve into a prestigious world leader. Our downtown is next door. Let’s be open to change.
— Chuck Roe is an investor in Trackside Center LLC. He helped create many of the mixed-use infill projects built in downtown Davis during the past 20 years. He is the past President of the Davis Downtown Business Association and former chairman of the Davis Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
Source: Davis Enterprise