Grand ideas

Downtown convention center and hotel among university’s master plan revision

Mike Guzzi, Chico State’s associate vice president of facilities and capital projects, has created an “aggressive” building plan for the university.

Mike Guzzi, Chico State’s associate vice president of facilities and capital projects, has created an “aggressive” building plan for the university.

Photo by Andre Byik

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Mike Guzzi’s chief goal: Bring Chico State’s campus into a new era.

Guzzi, a retired Navy civil engineer and the university’s associate vice president of facilities and capital projects, has been tasked with updating the institution’s master plan. The document’s last major revision came in 2005 and is intended to guide the school’s building projects over the next 10 to 30 years, reshaping the campus in the process.

Starting more than a year ago, Guzzi and his team have developed an “aggressive” plan that he said is meant to serve as a checklist of projects to complete, not a wish list of desires. Included among nearly two-dozen new construction projects are a 4,000-seat sports and events arena and a parking structure off Warner Street; several on-campus student housing buildings; and a conceptual plan that could bring a hotel and convention center near downtown’s Lost Park, replacing the two University Foundation buildings adjacent to Big Chico Creek at 25 and 35 Main St.

None of these projects is funded or expected to start construction in the next several years. In fact, the updated master plan likely won’t be approved by the California State University board of trustees until at least May 2020. But Guzzi’s proposed plan is about to undergo an environmental review, and the school will accept public comments on the plan through Tuesday (May 28), ahead of the preparation of an environmental impact report.

To that end, residents in the Avenues already have identified a potential bottleneck. John Whitehead, president of the Chico Avenues Neighborhood Association, said he and others who live nearby are concerned about potential traffic impacts from the proposed arena and 900-space parking structure.

Specifically, Whitehead explained in an email, the projects could result in an increased number of motorists using West Sacramento Avenue and West Second Street to access the arena and parking structure on Warner Street, “without any infrastructure improvements delineated.”

Further, he said he also objects to the proposed arena and parking project “in principle” because the “increased traffic funneled into the city core … runs counter to the objectives of prior [university] transportation studies/plans.”

Guzzi said he understands those specific concerns.

“I hear them,” he said. “Ingress/egress is something we need to look at, and the environmental impact report will analyze that and it will tell us, ‘OK, hey, if you’re going to put this thing there, here’s what you need to do to make it so people can get in and out.’”

A draft environmental impact report for the proposed master plan is expected to be completed by fall. It will then go through a round of public review and comments.

The university’s updated master plan, Guzzi said, is being developed to support the school’s “strategic plan,” which also is undergoing revision and includes values such as sustainability and student success.

Included in the plan are several student housing buildings that would add an additional 1,400 beds to the campus. Guzzi said officials have observed that students succeed when they spend their first year on campus, integrating with their learning environments. Officials also envision creating classrooms that offer more “collaborative” learning spaces, with more square feet assigned per student and a departure from more traditional lecture halls.

“We are pushing the CSU system to update their standards to allow us to build more spacious learning facilities,” Guzzi said.

But while the updated master plan identifies at least 22 new construction projects, including replacing Glenn and Modoc halls, Guzzi said the document is intended to be a road map for construction over the next several decades. Any school in the CSU’s 23-campus system that builds five buildings in a 10-year period would be “kicking butt.”

Chico State’s building projects over the next several years, he said, have already been identified. They include the new science building that is under construction where Siskiyou Hall once stood, the renovation of the old Physical Science Building, to be completed in 2021, and then a $90 million renovation of Butte Hall, to be completed in 2023. These are all projects that were identified in the 2005 master plan.

To potentially expedite future projects, Guzzi said he’s been directed to explore alternative funding sources, such as partnerships, sponsorships and donations. Guzzi noted a possible collaboration between the university and the city—which owns the parking lot along Big Chico Creek adjacent to the school’s foundation buildings—to better use the Lost Park area. The proposed master plan envisions a hotel and convention center there, with an additional parking structure, plus retail and office space.

“It’s just a wasted space that needs to be better utilized,” Guzzi said. “The city recognizes that. So do we. And, frankly, these two [foundation] buildings that we’re occupying right now … they are backlogged in deferred maintenance.” (Across campus, Guzzi said, the school has a backlog of building and utilities infrastructure renewal projects totaling $345 million.)

Chico City Manager Mark Orme said the city has been in ongoing talks with the university regarding the growth of the school and the city. The best-case scenario for the municipality, he said, would be a long-term lease of the parking lot property it owns there while ensuring parking availability. Orme said university officials are scheduled to present their updated master plan to the City Council Sept. 3.

“We’re being open-minded,” Orme said, adding that any potential projects in the Lost Park area likely would be realized years down the line.