Area developers and leaders meet to discuss downtown revitalization strategies

“What’s the future going to be like?” asked San Joaquin County Supervisor Carlos Villapudua on a recent evening at the University of the Pacific. “What’s San Joaquin County going to look like?”

Villapudua posed this question to a gathering of prominent local officials and real estate development professionals as part of a roundtable discussion hosted by the Local Government Commission, a nonprofit agency that works with local governments on furthering their sustainability and economic goals. The discussion fed off of a recent report by the commission on strategies to revitalize urban cores in the Central Valley.

A new report by the Council of Infill Builders lays out strategies for revitalizing Central Valley downtowns

The Council of Infill Builders brought together the region’s developers and officials to discuss strategies to jump start infill development in San Joaquin County

In addition to elected officials such as Stockton city council members Michael Tubbs, Moses Zapien, Dyane Burgos and Elbert Holman, local developers, property management firms, city planning staff and economic development agencies were seated in UOP’s alumni house to discuss how to facilitate the process of downtown development.

The topic is a tricky one, evidenced by the evening’s introductory presentation from Curt Johansen, president of the Council of Infill Builders. After intently studying the Central Valley’s potential for infill, Johansen and his team came up with some primary barriers keeping Central Valley cities from progressive development: insufficient infrastructure, utilities and pedestrian and bicycle routes; insufficient cultural and recreational attractions; and historically low constraints on horizontal growth—also known as sprawl.

According to Johansen this facilitation of sprawl “diffuses the energy of the city” and its costs to society and the environment have been continuously underwritten in archaic zoning laws and lack of oversight.

Having just officially breached the 300,000 mark, Stockton’s population will approach a half-million residents by 2050 and is projected to be the fastest growing region in the entire state over the next two decades. For Johansen and others in the room, this impending growth creates a serious need to discuss what form that growth will take and how to make it sustainable. He stressed that downtown development should not simply be undertaken for its current trendiness in the market, but because it implies real cost savings for municipalities when single-use structures are converted to mixed-use since its much less expensive to service existing infrastructure near the city center – essentially getting more bang for the buck.

Despite citing that 97 percent of future growth could be accommodated through infill, Johansen told the audience that shooting for a 50/50 split would be aggressive enough.

“We don’t have to be sustainable 100 percent of the time,” he said. “Let’s just figure out how to make the sustainable happen more often.”

As Johansen took his seat, the conversation turned to those in attendance who debated the “chicken and egg” component of the task before them: How do you get people invested in downtown? Do you start with restaurants? Nightlife? Is it better to have housing established first before attempting to attract commercial businesses?

But, as always, these questions proved to have no easy answers. Many cited the burden of the city’s financial insolvency which prevents city staff from thinking progressively about incentivizing developers who might otherwise turn their sights on Stockton. Others described Downtown Stocton’s inadequate pedestrian infrastructure such as insufficient crosswalks and dangerous one way boulevards that carry commuter traffic quickly away from downtown once 5 p.m. hits. All were in support of building housing units in the downtown area but said a solution will need to be found to the expensive cost associated with bringing older buildings up to modern code requirements – a cost that often renders many rehabilitation projects infeasible.

Still, there is evidence that people and organizations want to be downtown. Representatives from The Cort Group and CAFÉ Coop suggested encouraging local artists to use downtown space for pop-up concerts and art shows, and noted the opportunity presented by burgeoning technology startups seeking affordable working space outside of Silicon Valley. There is a nexus already linking Downtown Stockton to the cultural and intellectual components vital to thriving downtowns. The next step according to others like Mahala Burns of Cort Companies should be encouraging and providing space to these groups and potentially – similar to other cities – turning a blind eye to artists and others looking to take over and set up shop in old, dilapidated buildings.

Whatever the outcome, the gathering provided an important step in bringing together those already working on improving downtown to discuss ways to collaborate and partner. Public-private partnerships were stressed as essential to fostering downtown prosperity, and that neither sector would be as successful on their own versus if they worked together.

“The Central Valley is changing,” said Johansen during his presentation, “You need to figure out how to control that change to have the best outcome possible.”

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Categories: Development News

6 Comments on “Area developers and leaders meet to discuss downtown revitalization strategies”

  1. Jon Seisa
    May 20, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    Well, it’s a good start. There needs to be more forums and interfacing like this on the issue. Very good.

    Additionally, here are some stimulating ideas…


    Here’s an expansive and helpful list of resources and references:


    This following research from the book “Resilient Downtowns” by Michael A. Burayidi, Ph.D., cites that small cities with resilient downtowns adopted 4 primary strategies beyond the typical organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring; these strategies are:

    1) Integration of downtown retirement enclaves for the robust and massive Baby Boomer demographic;

    2) Downtown immigration attraction programs;

    3) Bridged historical preservation with heritage tourism promotion;

    4) Retained and expanded a healthy presence of civic and cultural buildings centrally in downtown.

  2. Jon Seisa
    May 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    It is great that North Stockton has the two parallel shopping malls on Pacific Avenue. And with the expansion of North Stockton sprawl, these amenities will continue to meet the shopping needs of that particular region and its immediate populace and neighborhoods.

    However, one way the city can revitalize its urban core is go beyond individual mom & pop shops and businesses and plan and strategize the creation of a downtown walkable high-end shopping district unmatched by the North Stockton malls, like Portland, Oregon, has done with noted national name luxury retailers, like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, or even Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, and Macy’s, and secondary tiered exclusive designer boutiques, like Hugo Boss, Tiffany & Company, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, Hammacher, Schlemmer & Co., Prada, Michael Kors, Cartier, Kenneth Cole, Anne Taylor, Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent, and so on.

    The Portland downtown retail core also incorporated landmarks and public plazas to add a sense of place, city pride, community exchange and leisure, increasing visitation and destination interest. Simultaneously, what is extremely key to the success of the retail core is ID branding/marketing, where a distinct image and style is generated and promoted as a city icon having one-of-a-kind signature distinction.

    Whether downtown Weber Avenue, Market Street, Main Street or another area or a combination of aforementioned vicinities are re-strategized for such a vast retail core vision, in my analysis this type of exclusive niche strategy will dramatically change the dynamics of Downtown Stockton for the best, and make it a popular destination for Stocktonian locals and tourists.


  3. cecorrales
    May 23, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    True, Portland has a luxurious and rich retail core in its downtown. It draws a lot of foot traffic and tourism. If something similar was brought to Stockton, would there be a market to support high end retail? There are nearby regional luxury outlets that would probably compete for customers (I’m thinking about the new outlets in Livermore specifically, but I know that there’s another in Vacaville and a couple nearby cities).

    I’m from Stockton and studying for my masters in urban and regional planning in Portland. I’m actually currently taking a downtown revitalization class right now and am looking for a revitalization strategy to research and evaluate.. any suggestions on ones that might be particularly useful or relevant for Stockton’s current discussion on downtown?

    • Jon Seisa
      May 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

      Well, I’m sure there are several issues that can be examined, but one of the most critical revitalization strategies that you might consider (which we have tossed around on David Garcia’s SCL) is conversion of Stockton’s one-way streets to two-way traffic to encourage urban core business revitalization and more easy access to downtown establishments, culture and venues with improved parking and walkability and biking features. It would be great if someone can actually develop some schematics demonstrating the comprehensive benefits, and pro and con analysis geared specifically to Stockton’s core and layout showing flow pattern dynamics that will funnel people to key downtown cores, rather than away from them, and perhaps some funding options for the conversion, and then present it to the city’s municipal leaders.

      As far as the up-scale retail urban core and whether enough of a demographic market exists with high disposable income, I would say it’s a little bit of the chicken and egg situation, and then not. Timing and logistics should be considered where high-end residential living, like residential towers, 4 to 5 star hotels, and some key regional corporate relocations to downtown are tandemly integrated near or in downtown to attract the immediate logistic presence of the needed consumer base. But yes, for SJC as a whole and tourism dollars from outside visitors, and the affluent communities in and around Stockton it is most likely viably on the near horizon.

      On the other hand, when moderate-scale retail catering to the common denominator with a Walmart, Walgreen’s, Sear’s, Target, K-Mart, Old Navy, CVS, etc. is placed in the urban core it often attracts the undesirable element of downtown society resulting in unpleasant low-grade standards and a poor shopping experience that visiting tourists will want to soon forget, which is not the image a city’s downtown alliance wants to promote for itself. Additionally, it is really nothing “special”, nothing to write home about. Besides, it makes absolutely no sense to allocate such prime downtown property for mediocrity. This is not to say there shouldn’t be something of this nature in the peripheral vicinity for all income groups, but it’s another ball of wax, and does not facilitate novelty and interest to drive a higher revenue influx.

    • Jon Seisa
      May 23, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

      Cecorrales, here are a few excellent design examples of “complete two-way street conversions” with the safety features of reduced lane capacity, curbside parking, separate bike lane routes, wider pedestrian sidewalks, streetscaped with trees and foliage, canopied seating rest areas, and so on. It would be fantastic if Stockton’s downtown main corridors incorporated this type of design strategy.

      I know there is a SCL article that David Garcia penned on exclusively developing Miner Avenue into a “complete street”, including funding that has been allotted, but that street is already a two-way street. It would be great if Stockton’s one-way streets were converted into two-way streets with the additive feature of being “complete streets”.

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