Sunday, October 28, 2007

Railyards & Sacramento History

Folding development around historical treasures has always been beneficial to communities, when done well; and realizing that the rail history of our region does have national importance bodes well for this development, if done well.

Is vision as grand as Sacramento's history?
Pia Lopez: The railyard's Central Shops could give city its iconic sense of place in history
By Pia Lopez -
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, October 28, 2007

Enclosed by the route of the world's first transcontinental railroad are seven 19th century buildings in the Sacramento railyard. The buildings – massive brick buildings dating from 1860s – may not look it in their current state, but they are the jewels of downtown.

The railyard's Central Shops, where locomotives and railroad cars were built and repaired for more than 100 years, should be on the National Historic Register. They should be admired and enjoyed by Sacramentans, while drawing visitors from all over the world.

Properly redone, the core buildings of the railyard would give the city an iconic sense of place, just as the Ferry Terminal and the Piers projects have done for San Francisco.

Sacramento is not just the state Capitol or the launching pad for the Gold Rush. While Promontory, Utah, takes credit for the transcontinental railroad – though it was only an accidental meeting point – the story really is Sacramento's. And the Central Shops in the railyard were an epicenter of technological innovation and the Central Valley's largest employer through the 1950s.

The city should claim the story by making something of the site where it took place. Unfortunately, attempts to develop the 240-acre railyard have proceeded in fits and starts since 1989, mostly fits – with private development teams coming and going. In the past, negotiations have broken down over toxic cleanup, infrastructure costs and fear of competition from downtown retail merchants.

Now, there is a new sense of optimism about the railyard. A development project has gone further than any in the past. Union Pacific has sold the land. Toxic cleanup is proceeding. The developer, Thomas Enterprises, has engaged the community in numerous meetings and presented plans for a dynamic mix of restaurants, shops, housing, offices and a museum.