Record Staff Writer
STOCKTON — On a June morning more than nine months ago, Stockton officials led 50 developers through three decrepit and long-shuttered city-owned downtown hotels, hoping someone would be sufficiently inspired by a vision of urban restoration to dig into their pockets and back up their ideas with their money.
But no inspiration was sparked, no cash flowed, and nothing happened.
Last week, though, something did happen — something that could be very significant for those who have yearned for years for a revitalized downtown Stockton.
The newly named development company Ten Space Inc. — formerly the Cort Group — rolled out a master plan for a 15-square block area of a long-neglected east-central section of downtown that will change the face of the city’s core if all or much of it eventually makes the leap from blueprints to bricks and mortar.
The rehab region is Miner Avenue to the north, Main Street to the south, Sutter Street to the west and Aurora Street (near the Cabral Train Station) to the east.
The plans call for 1,400 residential units, the vast majority of them market-rate rentals, that will support an organically expanding downtown of locally owned shops, restaurants, businesses, offices, and even agriculture and green spaces.
And, yes, those three blighted hotels the city fruitlessly tried to market last June are part of the proposal, which is dubbed the Open Window Project.
“Stockton is going to be a destination,” said Zac Cort, president of Ten Space. “It’s got a lot going for it, and it’s time for us to realize that as a community.”
Micah Runner, Stockton’s director of economic development, added, “We just need to be responsive to the private market and help these things be successful. Cities have tried to kind of socially engineer some of these things, but when it comes from the private sector, they have a better chance of being successful.”
Cort, 33, says the complete build-out could take five years, or 10, or 20.
The first small step will be Tuesday, when the City Council will consider granting Ten Space a 365-day exclusive window to negotiate the purchase from Stockton of five paved downtown vacant lots and those three downtrodden hotels. The abandoned hotels — the Commercial, the Main and the St. Leo — run along Weber Avenue and California and Main streets.
If the council approves the negotiating window Tuesday, and if the sales are finalized over the 365-day period, Cort said Ten Space will own as much as 80 percent of the land in the 15-block rehabilitation zone.
Advocates for downtown and regional business experts voiced strong support for Cort’s efforts and ideas after being apprised of the planned project late last week.
“It’s very good news and it’s history repeating itself,” Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce CEO Doug Wilhoit said. “If you go back to the beginnings of Stockton, in the teens and ’20s and ’30s, there were visionaries and entrepreneurs, people that believed in Stockton, and this is a new generation that believes in downtown. It worked then, and it can work again.”
Jeffrey Michael, director of University of the Pacific’s Center for Business and Policy Research, said a major obstacle that will have to be bridged if the Ten Space effort is to succeed will be the long-term poverty and desolation that has afflicted downtown.
But Michael also said he believes it is a very good sign that such a large chunk of the area targeted for major private redevelopment is to be in the hands of a single developer.
“You can have a bit of a vision and compatible uses next to each other” with a single developer, Michael said. “I’ve got to admire them for the commitment and the vision of taking it on. It’s definitely going to be a challenging area to turn around. It’s going to take a lot of investment, patience and commitment to do it.”
The Ten Space project dovetails with ongoing work by the city’s Planning Commission aimed at crafting an amended General Plan with a sharper focus on downtown and neighborhood revitalization.
The renewed focus on downtown has its roots in the recent foreclosure crisis, Stockton’s now-exited bankruptcy and climate change, with the biggest catalyst a 2008 anti-sprawl legal settlement between the city and the Sierra Club.
Eric Parfrey of the slow-growth group Campaign for Common Ground said Friday he is very encouraged by the Ten Space proposal.
“It sounds like a wonderful dream,” Parfrey said. “I hope it comes true. It’s very, very ambitious. Even if it proceeds in increments over the next decade or so, I think it’s a huge step forward for downtown. I’m cautiously optimistic for the first time in many years.”
Success for the project would benefit not only 300,000-resident Stockton but all of San Joaquin County, Michael said.
“Stockton is (more than) 40 percent of the county in population, and some of the physical attributes of downtown with the waterfront and the transportation infrastructure have real potential,” he said. “I think it would be an important step forward to be able to more positively link the city and region to the greater Bay Area and Northern California.”
The splashy project revealed last week by Ten Space is the third, and by far the largest, residential real-estate development announced for downtown in the past nine months. It’s also the first to feature market-rate housing.
Cort has smaller roles in the other two planned downtown projects, both of which are to offer ground-floor retail and upper-floor affordable housing. The first of those, to be located at California Street and Weber Avenue, is scheduled to break ground this week and to be completed in one year.
Ten Space’s research found that conditions are ripe for market-rate residential in Stockton.
Cort said the research shows young college-educated adults continued to migrate to Stockton even during the city’s recent economic hardships, a trend expected to gain more steam as soaring housing costs make the Bay Area increasingly unaffordable to the many.
Cort also said the desire among residents who already live in Stockton to reside in a walkable, active, urban downtown environment that spans all age demographics.
“Close proximity builds social equity,” Cort said. “You get to know your neighbor. You care about where you live. You become a destination. You grab from other communities. You grab from the Bay Area. You grab from Sacramento.
“Instead of us being close to everywhere, people are very close to us. We just need to realize what we have and build upon that.”
— View full article here. Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or email@example.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/phillipsblog and on Twitter @rphillipsblog.