Forget Downtown 3.0—upstart and established businesses flocking to new-look Broadway

Jack Morris (left) and Devon Atlee give thumbs up to the new Joe Marty’s. The bar is part of new business excitement along the Broadway corridor.

Jack Morris (left) and Devon Atlee give thumbs up to the new Joe Marty’s. The bar is part of new business excitement along the Broadway corridor.


It's the day before the soft opening of the new Joe Marty's Bar & Grille and co-owner Jack Morris barely has time to talk. Morris and partner Devon Atlee have spent the past four months restoring the historic Broadway sports bar and grill, gutted by a 2005 fire, and while it's come a long way, work isn't complete. A scoreboard purchased from nearby Little League park Dooley Field leans against a wall, waiting to be hung. Contractors and freshly hired staff mill about.

Finally, with a little lobbying, Morris acquiesces, starts to discuss his business—and gets excited. He ushers SN&R over to a wall with pictures of a barren room. “This is four months ago,” Morris says. There’s been plumbing, electrical, and sewer work, total rewiring for the iconic neon sign out front. “Everything’s new.”

The new life at Joe Marty’s mirrors the resurgence going on up and down Broadway. The city is gathering feedback for a Complete Streets Project, which could transform Broadway into a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly corridor, and the long darkened bar at 15th Street finally reopened on December 3.

Morris told SN&R he and Atlee chose to reopen the bar partly because of everything the city is doing along Broadway. “It’s a slow process for ’em, it’s going to be a long process for ’em, but I think this is the first step, really,” Morris said. “If you think about it, Joe Marty’s is the first step. … It’s what everybody sees coming back into Land Park.”

It isn’t the only prominent new business on Broadway. Sac Republic FC, which recently finished its second season, has its team offices on 17th Street, one block off the boulevard. Near Sac Republic, New Helvetia Brewing Co. celebrated its third anniversary on Black Friday, doing business out of the old Casa Grande Tortilla Factory.

Then there’s the stuff that could come to Broadway. One of Sacramento’s highest-rated restaurants, The Kitchen, has announced it will move to Broadway. Nearby, mixed-use community The Mill at Broadway is in the works. Tina Reynolds told SN&R that her visual communications firm, Uptown Studios, will relocate to 23rd and Broadway in the spring, operating in the former Bob’s Glass warehouse.

“I chose to move my business to Broadway because I feel that I am a change agent for a neighborhood,” Reynolds wrote in an email. She said she hopes to host events, speakers and art gatherings, and use her new building’s open space for community experiences. “Broadway is currently affordable and ready to explode with new energy—new people and new ideas and I wanted to be a part of the change.”

Morris and Atlee began talking three years ago about reopening Joe Marty’s, around the time the Urban Land Institute finished a study of Broadway that led to a $284,000 state grant to do the initial planning for the city’s Complete Streets Project. It’s similar to the city’s Grid 2.0 project that aims to make the central city more pedestrian-, bike- and transit-friendly.

Jeff Goldman of the Urban Land Institute said that early in his group’s study, it identified street improvements the city had been making along Broadway as the start of a more comprehensive look at the corridor and a chance to bring back infill projects scuttled by the economic downturn of 2008.

“It’s like someone’s smile and having some gaps between the teeth,” Goldman said. “There’s a lot to work with along Broadway, but you still have a few gaps like those that have great potential to fill in.”

One of the dangers with infill development is gentrification, raising property values enough that lower income residents get displaced. At the very least, something about a neighborhood’s character can change in the process.

Take Joe Marty’s, which probably couldn’t have been recreated as it was before the 2005 fire, but has a distinctly cleaner, brighter and more family-friendly look now. Morris and Atlee have a nine-year lease and have trademarked the name Joe Marty’s, too. “We stepped it up a little bit, but it’s still got the same feel,” Morris said of his business. “It’s got a big bar. It’s just different. It’s a new Joe Marty’s.”

The founder and namesake of the old Joe Marty’s was a Major League Baseball player from 1937 to 1941 whose career derailed due to injuries and World War II.

Accordingly, the most memorable thing about the old Joe Marty’s was history: Monthly lunches for old-time local ballplayers, now held at Old Ironsides, and numerous baseball photos. Firefighters formed a bucket brigade to save those photos, and they might still be in storage somewhere. But they’re not in the new Joe Marty’s, which features recreated photos from memorabilia collector Alan O’Connor.

Some things about Broadway are less likely to change. Broadway might be the best spot in Sacramento to get international food, with restaurants for a variety of countries clustered between 16th and 19th streets. Greater Broadway Partnership Interim Executive Director Michelle Smira Brattmiller said her group is considering holding an international food festival.

“One of the things we’re looking at doing is trying to utilize the resources that are already here,” she said. “We don’t want to try to create something that doesn’t exist, but we have so much diversity in the food makeup, in the restaurants that we have here.”

So far, businesses along Broadway seem pleased with the city’s improvements. Water-main work along Broadway over the summer made it difficult for customers to get into the Avid Reader’s parking lot. But the streetscape work and traffic calming measures are perhaps long overdue.

Preservation Sacramento President William Burg said that the traffic planning on Broadway dates to a 1930s approach of creating brisk auto corridors. “A lot of Complete Streets is reclaiming the public realm,” Burg said.

New Helvetia owner David Gull called Broadway “flat-out dangerous.” He’d love to see bike lanes, anything to prevent drivers from going 40 miles an hour.

“I’ve mentioned this to the city before: We could fix most of this with a can of paint,” Gull said. “But they insist on having studies and planning traffic studies and engineering reports and all these other things. But, ultimately, they’re just going to go out there and restripe it, even before any hardscaping happens.”

Funding to implement all the changes on Broadway could be a challenge, a common issue with transportation projects. The city will be on the hook for most of the costs and pursue state and federal grants to defray them. The Greater Broadway Partnership, which gets its money through a parcel tax in its area, has an annual budget of $245,000.

“That’s not enough, obviously, to do any major construction projects, but it is money that they can put toward actively seeking grant funding and working with our partners at the city and [the Sacramento Area Council of Governments] to see, if there’s funding available, how can we work together to go try to get that?” Smira Brattmiller said.

But for Greater Broadway Partnership board member and Sac Republic FC marketing and communications vice president Erika Bjork, the neighborhood’s already shining. She noted that Colin Hanks’ documentary about Tower Records, All Things Must Pass, which premiered in October at Tower Theater, has brought national attention to the district.

Bjork told SN&R, “I think there’s something to be said about a multitude of things coming together at one point.”