Exit strategy on K Street

Last year Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Bretón called it “a triumph of entrepreneurial spirit over decades of decay in the urban core of Sacramento.”

Funny how decay always makes a comeback. The Three Monkeys Grill at the end of K Street is now closed.

The trendy sushi restaurant and bar was touted by city development officials, armchair planners and cheerleaders of the Mikuni-fication of everything (apologies to Richard Hansen) as a diamond in K Street’s rough.

Back in the fall of 2007, while the city was slapping around landlord Moe Mohanna with one hand, with the other it was shoveling $640,000 at the owner of the Three Monkeys building, to pay for facade improvements and structural repairs.

Now, the spot is closed indefinitely, and the city’s Development Services Department is trying to figure out if there’s any way to put together a bailout.

So here we are again, at the end of another year of the endless war against blight on K Street—ground zero in a “merged downtown redevelopment area,” around since 1955, having sucked up $300 million in public money. Bites is no Libertarian, and thinks government can do wonderful things to make our lives better. But when it comes to K Street, the city needs an exit strategy.

For example, the city is spending $4 million on “streetscape improvements” to the area—which will at least make K Street the most gorgeously designed no man’s land in the city.

One million redevelopment dollars are going to move two light-rail stations over one block each. It turns out that one of the stations blocks the sight lines to a long-promised (but nowhere close to being built) Z Gallerie furniture store. Regional Transit says there’s “no operational reason” to move the station, and transit advocates say the new location around the corner on Seventh Street will actually be more dangerous for passengers. But the Z-man himself, Joe Zeiden, has told the city that moving the station is critical to the success of his store. A year later, Zeiden wants more money or he’s pulling out of the (nowhere close to being built) project.

Plans to refurbish the Westfield Downtown Plaza shopping mall have grown less and less ambitious with every delay. Plans for a Target store to rehab the dying mall have been dropped. A scaled-down, $40 million face-lift is slated for the spring, but everyone has learned not to hold their breath.

Back on K Street proper, it’s still illegal to play a guitar without a city permit. The city wants to destroy what remains of the old underground sidewalks. The missteps have been piling up for years.

Nothing stands in better for the cluster-fail on K Street than the IMAX subsidy. The city pays up to $75,000 to help pay the rent for Esquire IMAX every year, because the theater isn’t selling enough tickets.

It isn’t selling enough tickets because all the first-run movies shown in the area are going to the Century Theatre, a few blocks away in the Westfield Downtown Plaza. When The Dark Knight, a film made for IMAX exhibition, was playing up the street, Esquire manager Doug Link lamented that “it would have made our year” to be able to show the movie opening weekend.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a huge profit maker for IMAX theaters around the country right now. But Sacramento’s IMAX won’t get the film until mid-January, long after the sweet spot of opening weekend has passed.

And the city seems powerless to do anything about it. Keep in mind, these lucrative films are being shown in the same Westfield Downtown Plaza that has its hand out asking for city money to complete its (nowhere close to being done) remodel.

Will Kevin Johnson, His Strongness, be able to do any better? Has anybody even gotten him to sit still long enough to explain the mess on K Street to him yet?

During his campaign, Johnson promised a “top-to-bottom audit” of city finances. An end-to-end audit of the city’s efforts on K Street would be a good start.