Midtown’s soul

Downtown on Sunday afternoon, ice skaters circled the temporary rink at Seventh and K streets, gliding to tweezed buttrock versions of the yuletide canon—was that Loverboy or Journey mangling “White Christmas”? Walking my bike down K Street and window-shopping boarded-up businesses made me feel like it was holiday season in some godforsaken Midwestern town after the local Pontiac plant closed.

It felt so good that I kept walking, down K to the Convention Center, over to J Street and down into deep Midtown. At a storefront offering psychic readings on 21st Street, a woman smoked while leaning on the doorway.

“Business slow?” I inquired.

“Yes,” she answered before asking, “You work across the street at the bookstore?”

“No. I’m unemployed,” I told her, then waited a beat: “And if you were truly psychic, you would have known that.” She scowled.

I kept walking, down K past Sutter’s Fort, turned left on 28th Street and again on J. At the southwest corner of Marshall Park, where 27th Street crosses J, a man was busy stringing colored lights horizontally around a vertical pole with cables angling outward from the top; the construct took shape as a conical Christmas tree. Two segments of a white picket fence leaned against the structure, ready to be bolted into place.

I figured he might be some random guy performing a labor of love by helping to spruce up the town before the holidays. Turned out this random guy was Rob Kerth, former city councilman, now executive director of the Midtown Business Association, and by his own admission, “a recovering politician.”

And he was apologetic. “I wanted to have all this done yesterday,” he said, referring to the association’s Saturday holiday promotion. “Didn’t quite make it.”

The celebration’s Norman Rockwell flavor—Christmas carolers, Santa Claus, sleigh rides, hot cocoa—might incline one to think that Kerth’s group is some kind of small-town chamber of commerce outfit transplanted to the Midtown village grid, but it has a more overarching agenda. Aside from striking a balance between business and residential properties in the mixed-use area, Kerth said he understands the need to nurture arts in the district, without which the Midtown grid becomes a pretty soulless place. “It’s like a pyramid that stands on its head,” he explained. “And the tip of the pyramid, the part that rests on the ground, is art, music and fashion.”

Art and fashion seem to get at least a modicum of local support. But music? Kerth admitted that might be the weak link. “We want to strengthen that wherever we can,” he said. “That’s required us to work with the city of Sacramento quite a bit. You know, four people get together with an amplifier, and [the police] kind of need to surround and subdue.”

He laughed, but the look on his face indicated he realizes there’s been a problem. “We don’t know music, but we do know the city,” he said. “And we know how to work with them.”

Already, he said, the Sacramento Police Department has formed what Kerth called “an entertainment team” to learn a different approach than its default setting of pull the plug, changing conditions that will allow a renaissance of local music to arise.

Let us hope.