What should this empty lot on Stockton’s waterfront be?

Several times a year, thousands of Stocktonians flock to the north side of the downtown waterfront to take in baseball games, hockey matches, concerts, graduations and other events. And while the ballpark, arena and hotel are generally lively, about a fifth of the original Stockton Event Center project remains empty and undeveloped. Just south of the arena and east of the ballpark sits nearly 10 acres that were supposed to be turned into retail sites. Obviously, retail development has yet to materialize, leaving event center patrons with few pre and post event entertainment options. For the most part, these visitors show up for the event at the scheduled time and leave upon that event’s conclusion. What if we could keep people around longer?

The fact that this retail space was never built may actually be a blessing in disguise. I’ve already pointed out the center’s poorly situated parking garage, but there is still time to improve upon the retail space design. It’s important that this parcel be developed in a thoughtful and original manner as there is a great opportunity to create a public space buzzing before and after events. Right now, other than the bar and restaurant at the University Plaza (both are awesome, by the way), there are no pre or post game options for fans directly adjacent to the ball/park arena. But that could change with a unique development serving as a functional public space even when there are not events. To achieve this, let’s examine what needs to be done and explore some ideas for what this could look like.

The original site plan for the Stockton Events Center. Retail areas were originally part of the plan, including more surface parking.

The original site plan for the Stockton Events Center. Retail areas were originally part of the plan, including more surface parking.

Get rid of that surface parking!

The original site plan appears to call for on-site surface parking. With a massive parking garage just steps away, why on earth does there need to be any more real estate devoted to automobiles? This type of car-centric design is more suited to the city’s outer rungs, not on the waterfront where we should encourage walking as much as possible. Also, allowing cars into the area makes it more dangerous and less appealing for pedestrians. With a parking garage and surface parking just north of Fremont, there is zero need for additional parking spots here.

Easy on the chain stores

I understand the importance of national chains to anchor these kinds of projects: they serve as financially sound tenants while reinforcing a project’s stability to other interested businesses. However, too many chains can make a place feel fake. Local businesses and entrepreneurs should be courted for a project like this to retain some local flavor.

Stay away from gimmicks

Some cities turn to gimmicks to attract tourists, something that should be strictly avoided not just for this parcel but for all of Stockton’s waterfront. For example, Baltimore recently considered some ridiculous ideas for the Inner Harbor, including a zip line and a rock wall. The best waterfronts and downtowns are devoid of tourist traps and instead offer authentic experiences unique to that city. So, please, no amusement park rides.

I believe that there are a handful of options that would make best use of this space. Let’s take a look:

Container Park

The first type of development that comes to mind is a container park. Yes, I am referring to the same kind of containers used for transportation on rails and barges, but for a very different purpose. In other cities, containers are used to transform public spaces into eclectic, mixed-use areas offering affordable spaces for entrepreneurs looking to open restaurants or shops at low costs. Container parks are easily modified to accommodate different ventures, from outdoor bars to art galleries, serving as a kind of small business incubator. This kind of out-side-of-the-box development fosters vibrancy not seen in traditional retail or commercial spaces and could work well on Stockton’s waterfront.

There are several examples of container parks in other cities. In Las Vegas, a container park development—unimaginatively dubbed Downtown Container Park— is being built on an empty downtown lot. The park features a mix of cafes, boutiques, bars, galleries, community space, an outdoor theater, and children’s play area (not to mention a two-story high fire breathing praying mantis)

Downtown Las Vegas' Container Park

Downtown Las Vegas’ Container Park

The Navy Yard neighborhood in Washington DC features a ballpark-adjacent container park known as the Fairgrounds. DC’s container park hosts Washington National’s fans before and after games, hosting live music and a variety of local food vendors. The Fairgrounds are also active in the off-season, hosting events such as beer festivals and monthly food truck gatherings known locally as Truckeroo (Stockton already has something similar with Friday Food Truck Frenzies, which are already held next to the arena).

The container park concept is fairly new and unique and would make Stockton’s waterfront stand out against others. Not only that, but a container park would serve as a nod to the area’s industrial past, while at the same time fostering local businesses


The argument could also be made for residential as part of whatever is built on this parcel. Through a mixed-use approach, apartments could be constructed on higher floors with retail on the lower floors. Next door, the popularity of the University Lofts provides proof of demand for waterfront housing from young professionals and UOP students. Moreover, an influx of people would help support retail businesses, and these businesses would also entice potential residents who have long lamented the immediate area’s lack of amenities. (note: a container park would not work for residential, but there could be a mixture of the two).

SCL event center parcel

What will be built here?:

Create public spaces

Whatever is built here should be inclusive. There certainly should be restaurants and commercial activity, but there should also be ample public space to be enjoyed before and after games and events. Right at the confluence of waterfront strollers, hotel guests and event patrons, this space needs to be a gathering point for Stocktonians to congregate and enjoy the waterfront together.

What do you think? We are probably a couple years at best from seeing any movement on this parcel, which is now owned by Marina Towers LLC thanks to a lawsuit settlement with the city. We don’t know what Marina Towers has planned, if anything, but it’s never too early for a conversation about the best use of Stockton’s waterfront.

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Categories: Community Commentary, Development News

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

24 Comments on “What should this empty lot on Stockton’s waterfront be?”

  1. L.W.G.
    November 12, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    A Container Park is a very good idea for such a space.

  2. November 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    How about a real semi-permanent Farmers Market like the one at the Ferry Building in S.F. with food trucks and upscale food products and vendors. I know people that travel to SF just to go to that market.

    • David Garcia
      November 12, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

      A market is a great idea, if not for the waterfront, somewhere in downtown. Stockton is surrounded by some of the most productive farmland in the nation, yet we have no public market for area producers to sell directly to the public. And a market space could double as incubator space for food trucks and other smaller vendors who can’t afford traditional brick and mortar locations.

      • January 18, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

        ++ If the food trucks are using the fresh product from the local farmlands

  3. Jon Seisa
    November 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    I would certainly recommend something far more ambitious for this particular high profile real estate than mere shops and eateries, something with higher pre/post-game entertainment intensity and value on the lines of L.A. Live and Orlando Magic, but of course on a much smaller scale, an entertainment media court for periodic staged public venues and mixed-use complex with restaurants, sports grills, retail shopping, where the lot’s surface is utilized at maximum high impact with multiple levels. It should feature pedestrian and café terraced layers and vistas and a vertical high density residential/hotel with conference center and perhaps an office structure to mutually generate pedestrian traffic both day and night. I recommend an aquatic theme to tie in with the Stockton Channel featuring cascades and fountains as a central feature.

    The entire Van Buren-Madison arching street should be converted into a “Crescent Walk” or “Channel Walk” lined with palms, arches, seating coves, reflecting ponds, fountains, public art and sculpture and lined with urban retail, bistros and sidewalk cafes, like Anaheim’s “Garden Walk” https://www.aarc.org/education/meetings/congress_08/advance_program/images/garden_walk.jpg

    Perhaps along this curved route the container module system can be utilized. Here is how their use was proposed for 2 Long Beach projects:

    ORLANDO MAGIC: http://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/blog/2013/11/4-tenants-orlando-magic-should-get-for.html?page=all

    LA LIVE:

    LA LIVE OVERVIEW: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.A._Live

    • David Garcia
      November 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Great ideas, Jon. No one can ever accuse you of thinking too small. I think a lot of what you propose could be achieved with a container park concept. It would just be a more unique way of presenting bars and restaurants. Nonetheless I agree with your ideas as far as the type of activity that should be happening here. I would caution against building any kind of towers on this lot. Doing so may block out the view of the arena to the water,

      • Jon Seisa
        November 14, 2013 at 12:30 am #

        Lol, David… people have to take anything I envision and chop it in HALF (seriously), ’cause I think REALLY BIG. I have this habit of seeing Stockton one hundred years in the future when it looks like Shanghai. I guess my thing as a visionary is that by thinking ultra large, that by the time everything is cost-reduced out of the concept and ends up on the editing floor then in the end you actually get something remotely reasonable. Lol.

        But definitely in principle and pragmatically scaled down for Stockton there’s something there, something that engages and appeals to a wide targeted age group, interests and tastes for families, children, young adults and seniors would be ideal.

        I really like Anthony’s aquarium idea; Stockton is made for a regional aquarium and due to its naval and aquatic connection, as I’ve mentioned to you before. And this location and lot could easily fit and support a 200,000 sq ft facility, like the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. But then you will have 3 major venues (the baseball stadium, arena and aquarium) and this will magnify the problem of what will all the folks do immediately and logistically for refreshments, food, leisure, just mere seating to get off their feet, and pre/post game pastime events/activities? But don’t give up on that aquarium idea; it’s bound to be built in Stockton.


        WHAT IF…. the lot were designed into a sort of quasi-historical “Port Weber” or “Riverport Weber” or “Captain Weber’s Village”, a vintage seaport village during the Gold Rush (shades of 1849 Stockton), like those themed New England seaside shopping villages. Downtown Long Beach has “Shoreline Village”, a cluster of restaurants, boutiques, eateries, cafes, bars, bakery, candy store (awesome), jewelry and fashion shops, boardwalk vendors, game arcades, horse carousal, etc. nestled together in a quaint and charming New England-type seaside village. Here are some images:


        I like majakeo1’s farmers market idea, too (it should include a fish market and flower mart as well). But this is an A.M. to afternoon venue; the vendors will close up shop before sunset, and then what will be there in the evening when the arena and ballpark venues release their hordes onto the street? An empty lot? But definitely somewhere in Downtown Stockton there needs to be a permanent farmers market as majakeo1 suggested.


        WHAT IF… after hours another set of nighttime street food vendors swept in… it turns out nighttime urban vendors are taking off like hotcakes in cities across the nation from Scranton, Philly, Brooklyn to Greensboro.

        Here’s what Greensboro is doing: http://downtowngreensboro.net/blog/dining/local-flavor/new-evening-city-market-in-downtown-greensboro-to-be-held-every-3rd-thursday-of-the-month-debuts-june-20-2013/

        It would be cool to design the location with an amphitheater, perhaps puppet theater as well, and an outdoor Chess Plaza. Jazz musicians and artsy street performers welcome. There should be garland festooned trellis arches and lofty colored banners and canopies for shade during day and some protection from rain. Maybe it can have a garden-like atmosphere, wonderful dripping vines and foliage, magnificent and splendid topiaries dramatically lit up at night, and it can be beautifully named “The Agora Gardens” (“agora is Greek for “marketplace”, hence a touch of class for Stockton). A vast circular central courtyard could be the main area with some sort of huge cantilever lattice structure roof where booths are setup, trade, display and activities… outdoor café tables… local Stocktonian and San Joaquin County businesses, stores, restaurants, bistros, chefs, boutiques, artists of crafts, wearable art and fashioned goods, all encouraged to participate, as well as licensed street food vendors. Perhaps scheduled events are calendrically featured, fashion shows, or collector car shows (daytime); a fine art gallery “taste of art” with food and wine from local wineries, and so on. It should be an orchestrated and managed enterprise.

        Inspirational Ideas for “The Agora Gardens”…


        It might look modern and be a cantilever roof, something like this: http://static.dezeen.com/uploads/2012/09/dezeen_b.jpg

        But not a solid structure, rather lattice pole construction and airy (like the arches in the images above that might extend out at both ends of this main structure and also house vendors), and stretched shade canvas integrated in key locations. Beneath the roof, it would not just be one flat level, but terraced levels, leading down to the main central circular plaza; and these terraced levels (3 to 4) should drip in foliage, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and a waterfall descends each terrace in a cascade to a pool below, while each level has a view of the core plaza.

        Just a thought.

  4. Anthony
    November 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    The idea for redeveloping the urban core was to build/encourage construction of some of the finer things a city may have to offer including sleek commercial space, towering urban and modern residential units, and entertainment venues that avoid tacky or unimaginative spaces. Thinking of kids and families alike, why not invest more time researching what it would take to build an Arboretum, Aquarium, or Science Museum on this amazing waterside location. I think it’s time people consider the idea that Stockton (with more than a quarter million residents) deserves top attractions for both residents and tourists that will leave lasting impressions. The city screams for a renewed image and if anything but spectacular is built on this land, it would be a shame. Opportunity is there but where are all the big-ideas?

    • David Garcia
      November 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

      Well put. I think an aquarium/science museum would be a great addition to the waterfront, though would be tough to finance. An aquarium especially would make sense, given the need to educate area children on the importance of the Delta. The National Aquarium in Baltimore serves this purpose for the Chesapeake Bay, acting not only as an aquarium but also as a research and conservation facility. Perhaps it’s time the Delta had a similar operation given that it;s the second largest estuary in the country. Converesly, the city of Hartford recently built a riverside science museum, check it out.


  5. Jon Seisa
    November 12, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    There are actually so many ideas one can do. For instance, work with the Ghirardelli Company and license their name or offer incentives in a deal to develop, say, a high visibility and notoriety “Ghirardelli Wharf” for this location, since, historically, Ghirardelli first located to Stockton to set up shop during the Gold Rush before relocating to San Francisco.

    So using this as the foundational theme with the anchor of a Ghirardelli Shop and Soda Salon, an entire cluster of terraced gaslight pavilions can be conjured up, a complex with commercial retail gift boutiques, assortment of restaurants, cafés, bistros, sports bars, cocktail lounges, sushi bars, acades, bakery, and other features, say a “Dave and Buster’s” for the kids; and nestled with meandering vine covered alleys, plazas, fountains and public courtyards, and perhaps anchored with an international hotel.

    Or simply call it “Weber’s Wharf” and have Ghirardelli as one of the tenants. Lord knows the name Weber has gotten a lot of longevity in Stockton.

  6. janet tucker
    November 12, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    David Garcia, I am so taken by what you are about. Thank you for the energy you push…for this special town!

  7. Josh Benavidez
    November 12, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    The container park concept is interesting, but I am not too sure how I feel about it.

    Having mixed used development would be perfect for this lot. A valid point is made when there is not pre or post activities around the ball park and arena beside the bar at the hotel. There should be a development that is dense to take advantage of the limited space on the waterfront. The question that should be posed is how high should the development go. If we build to low, then there is less available space, but if we build to high then it could cover up a majority of the arena’s visibility from surrounding areas.

    Five stories seems to be reasonable. The first two stories could be for restaurants, bars, shops and the remaining three stories should be apartments and/or offices. Another question in regards to parking. We have the garage, but if we possible a underground lot go be established.

    Little green areas with ager fountains would enhance the whole vibe also. The area where the rotunda is would be a great place for this.

    • David Garcia
      November 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

      Height is definitely an issue. You wouldn’t want to entirely cover up the view from the arena or the view of the arena from the water. Five stories may be a bit too tall, maybe just 2-3 stories, but this can vary depending on how the buildings are positioned. I think the opportunity for larger buildings is really to the west of the ballpark/arena. Here there is space to create entirely new city blocks. As for really tall buildings (10 stories+), I think those are best suited in the core, east of the waterfront, that way the city’s central business district is clearly defined. Just my opinion.

      • Josh Benavidez
        December 3, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

        Are you familiar with the development “Fountains” in Roseville? What if we built something like that in this spot. It is a beautiful place and I believe that it would fit in well.

  8. Anthony
    November 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Well, there sure is a plethora of amazing ideas here. I think whatever is built here it will be great (we can all surely hope, lol) but I think THE most important thing for this particular location is: DESIGN. Stockton in general and downtown specifically desperately needs more progressive, modern, and innovative design sprinkled around town. Whether an aquarium, shops, or a shoreline park is built near the prized waterfront location, the city does not need another faux pas during it’s “rebirth”. If newer design (architecture) concepts are not taken into consideration, the outcome could prove to be bland, boring, and just bad all around.

    *I think in Stockton’s financial state, smaller more temporary ideas should be taken IMMEDIATELY into consideration especially for high visibility areas like the location being discussed above. Look to the City of Detroit. The biggest city in America to file for bankruptcy has something quite inspiring brewing that some may not know about and it’s happening on a budget with locals involved and on a smaller scale then most ideas we’ve presented here. Just a thought.

    **I would love to see another article and of course some more GREAT IDEAS about the rarely talked about bridges that will be connecting the North Shore and South Shore. Already dreaming of a Calatrava/Hadid inspired web of bridges crossing the waterfront.

    • seisa@verizon.net
      November 14, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      Auh—-Santiago Calatrava, my HERO…

      I agree, Anthony, Stockton could use some architectural “statement pieces” (I still mourn ***and wear black*** over the demolition of the Neoclassic courthouse, what a marvelous museum that would have made)… aesthetically pleasing and beautiful attributes are key, not just modernism for modern’s sake, or the design decision left in the hands of those unqualified to know the difference from fad, trite/kitsch and really good design that is enduring and classic. Personally and professionally, the new courthouse design is rather stark, boxy, over angular and unimaginative, scarcely any better than the minimalistic box being condemned from the 60s.

      Bridges, now that’s an area where novelty may be established as an iconic landmark exclusive to Stockton. Perhaps a cable-stay pedestrian bridge, something in white and lit up at night, and having a uniquely shaped anchor pylon, lyrical in shape, majestic, with originality to separate it from the typical modern bridges of today. I think conduit piping should be integrated into the foundation of the bridge, on both sides, to deliver a rain-curtain of recycled water from the channel that is lit with computer oscillating colored spotlights in rainbow patterns or monochromatic transformation. It could be quite magical and romantic, reflecting upon the mirror surface of the channel. Such a bridge would look fabulous on postcards.

      • David Garcia
        November 15, 2013 at 8:53 am #

        I love the idea of a unique pedestrian bridge. If you recall, the city had planned on a rather bland bridge before the economy collapsed (to be fair, the more bold ideas were very poor and would not have fit very well aesthetically into the area). When I interviewed DSA CEO Leandro Vicuna, he said that he would like to find a way to finally build the bridges. Hopefully, a better design is chosen. Cost will ultimately be a limiting factor, but I think the bridges below can be built for reasonable prices and still add character to the waterfront.

        Locally I see the bridge in Washington DC’s Yards Park fairly often, I think it’s a cool design (the park overall is very well done).

        Baltimore has a simple bridge connecting parts of the Inner Harbor. However it still keeps the nautical theme that Jon I think you are advocating for.

        And actually, our sister city in England has a really great pedestrian bridge.

        And then there is this bridge in New Zealand that is pretty awesome, and was actually built for less than the proposed bridges in Stockton were estimated.

        perhaps this will make a good article in the future.

      • Jon Seisa
        November 15, 2013 at 9:57 am #

        Love those bridges. It’s just amazing how imagination, computer tech and new synthetic material innovations have revolutionized bridge design. At this point there is really no excuse for an ugly mundane bridge.

        I love this one in Manchester, England done for the MediaCityUK; see how the majestic support pylon for the asymmetrical cables makes such an elegant and sculptural statement, like art… (this one is a “swing bridge” to open [pivots] and lets vessels through):

        And bridges don’t have to be linear and boring anymore, they can be curvilinear like this Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge in San Diego:


        Here are some bridges adapted into cascade falls and beautifully lit at night, quite a spectacular site sure to attract tourism; it would be cool to actually integrate this feature in a bridge design as a significant feature that could be activated:


  9. Jon Seisa
    November 15, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    In terms of modern design, something like this might be ideal for “The Agora Gardens” (marketplace) on this channel edge site, having changes of elevation, terracing, integrated with vegetation/foliage, cascades… the opposite side could be open to a vast covered courtyard for market and food vendors, events and entertainers, and it could actually also house some key elements, like a large conference hall and catering for events, weddings and corporate events, perhaps have a host of permanent restaurants overlooking the central courtyard as well as channel side, and so on…

  10. Jon Seisa
    November 17, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    Here is a modest example of a market plaza venue with a cantilever lattice roof in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, the Fenton Street Market at Veterans Plaza. Though it’s not permanent, it gives a general ambiance to what I’m suggesting.


    Here is another awesome venue for Stockton’s waterfront; this is the new Asser Park Amphitheater Project on Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Something like this would make an awesome waterfront concert amphitheater for the site, while making a unique architectural statement. Perhaps it could be merged complimentary with a fabulous marketplace with fresh produce, fish market, flower mart, food and wine vendors and onsite 2 signature cafés, a wine-brewery bistro and perhaps VIP 5-star restaurant with private party terraces overlooking the concert stage.


  11. Jon Seisa
    November 17, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    One thing I think Downtown Stockton really needs is a modern clock tower in a promontory point; perhaps that may be somewhere in this location (channel side, also view-able from across the channel) in compliment and tangent to whatever develops on this North Channel lot.


  12. Jon Seisa
    November 17, 2013 at 3:59 am #

    Stockton needs one of these, so perfect for the Channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjbtV4-1cU4

  13. L.W.G.
    November 27, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    The Millenium Footbridge in Stockton, England was developed after a design and build competition.
    If doing an iconic structure like a bridge or a clock tower, one idea would be to identify a local donor who would pay the architect’s fee, allowing for a prominent architect to become like a brand to the structure.
    The town of Columbus, Indiana has a population of 44,000 yet it is ranked sixth in the nation for architectural innovation by AIA because a local philanthropic family pays the architect’s fees on public buildings.
    An innovative design either following a competition or a donor’s funding of a prominent architect can become a branding point for a town.
    Columbus, IN and Architecture: http://www.archdaily.com/299356/aia-ranks-columbus-indiana-as-uss-6th-most-architecturally-important-city/


  1. The Cubist solution - July 21, 2014

    […] a “container park” in Las Vegas. Last year Stockton City Limits suggested a container park would work well on Stockton’s […]

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