Westfield’s new plan for the Downtown Plaza is introduced, to mixed reviews
Sacramento City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy was unimpressed with portions of Westfield’s new plan for redeveloping the Downtown Plaza. “Roseville gets Tiffany’s, and we get Target,” she said, summing up her disappointment. “We’re the state capital. When we have the rail yard developed and high-end residences … we should have something for everybody.”
Sheedy said that suburban projects, like the Roseville Galleria, have been attracting all of Westfield’s attention, making the Downtown Plaza something of an afterthought. Westfield received the city’s most recent recommendations for revamping its redevelopment plan almost a year ago. “It took a long time to get to this point,” said Sheedy. It’s not that Sheedy doesn’t like Target. She called it a great retailer, but it doesn’t fit her vision for the developing downtown. “I think we need to be treated like a big city.”
Mayor Heather Fargo was more accepting of Target as an anchor for the plaza. “I’m very pleased that [Westfield’s] submitted new plans,” she said. “There are a number of shopping centers that have added Target when they have Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue.”
She’s not sure whether the new plans propose enough big changes to draw new shoppers to the downtown, but along with the city’s evolving plans for new residential development, new hotels and office buildings, along with planned retail along the 700 and 800 blocks of K Street, Fargo called the plan “a good package.”
Within Westfield’s new designs, submitted to the city’s Development Services Department in early August, the major changes include an expanded movie theater over the Hard Rock Cafe at the plaza’s entrance at K and Seventh streets, and a retailer—most likely Target—along with a grocery in the redesigned building between the two Macy’s stores along L Street. The food court will expand into the seven-screen space currently occupied by Century Theatres.
“We’ve had requests for 9,000 new units in downtown Sac,” said Fargo. “The rail yards are looking at 10,000 new residences.” The mayor also said that a new 5,000-unit neighborhood was being discussed for the waterfront. The city’s redevelopment dollars are understandably stretched, but Fargo said the city would consider providing funds to Westfield if the plan fits the city’s priorities.
“The reality is we’re going to need it,” said Larry Green, Westfield’s senior vice president of development.
The local media reported that Westfield plans to ask the city for $20 million, a fifth of the $100 million ticket price. But neither council members nor Green would confirm the amount, saying that no official request for redevelopment funds had yet been made.
Vice Mayor Rob Fong was even more optimistic about the new plan than the mayor was. He’d told Westfield in the past that he wanted to be “wowed.”
“I guess it would be great if we could attract a high-end retailer or two, but I like Target,” said Fong, who’d viewed renderings of urban stores that were architecturally more appealing than the big-box model familiar to Target shoppers who frequent the Broadway store. “This is not your grandmother’s Target,” said Fong. “It’s vastly different from what we know as Target.”
But tenants are only one element of redevelopment. Fong wants display windows and other architectural details to liven up the bland southern wall, details that Westfield included in this round of renderings.
Currently, said Fong, the plaza does not have a “welcoming, come-here-and-shop look.”
Though Target’s inclusion has stirred up some differences of opinion among council members, other portions of Westfield’s plan inspired collective support. Fargo, Fong and Sheedy all praised Westfield for building a grocery store into its redevelopment plan. Though groceries are not the normal mall anchor, they are becoming more popular, said Patrice Duker, manager of media relations for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
In the last three or four years, said Duker, centers across the country have begun to rethink the idea of an anchor. Above all, she said, it needs to be a draw. So-called hypermarts that include banking and other services along with groceries are ideal. Grocery stores traditionally attract shoppers more than once a week. The more shoppers, the more sales-tax revenue for the city.
Though Westfield’s plans mention no tenants, and Green said there would be no announcements until all the agreements were signed, council members had heard Nugget, Whole Foods and even Wild Oats were possibilities.
Along with the anchor stores, Westfield is looking to expand the movie theater and make it more visible by placing it on Seventh Street. The council is committed to keeping the theater from going mega and have told Westfield that they’ll only accept a total of 12 screens at the plaza—a number supported by the Tower District Alliance, according to representative Luree Stetson. But Green said he’ll leave the number of screens up to the operator. Century recently merged with Cinemark, and representatives did not return calls.
Westfield’s new plans will go to the Design Review and Preservation Board and then to the Planning Commission. Westfield hopes to clear the project for construction at the beginning of 2007, and Green believes that the redevelopment will take about two years.
In that time, Sacramento could be a very different place. And some residents, including Sean Wright, representing the Alkali and Mansion Flats Historic Neighborhood Association, think this may be the plaza’s last chance to attract high-end retailers and “wow” residents. Once the rail yard is built out, he thinks it will be much more appealing to retailers looking for a spot downtown.
When completed, the city hopes to see K Street as one long, seamless thoroughfare, packed with retail, restaurants and residences. The plaza’s a major part of that vision, and Target, as Wright mentions, is no Neiman Marcus.
“Sacramento’s missing an opportunity,” he said, “but I can see why. … Sacramento’s at the cusp of being a cosmopolitan city, but we’re not there yet.”