Cindi Fargo has only been CEO of the Downtown Stockton Alliance for less than two weeks, but she’s already jumping into the job of revitalizing Downtown Stockton with both feet.
“I see nothing but opportunity here,” Fargo said during a Nov. 21 interview with Stockton City Limits. “Of course we have our challenges — this work is necessary because there are challenges.”
That work, for Fargo, is piloting the DSA, Downtown Stockton’s Property and Business Improvement District (PBID) with a mission of creating a vibrant, sustainable urban community in Stockton’s historic heart. Formed in 1996, the alliance is funded by fees from participating property and business owners within the district, which encompasses much of Downtown Stockton. The money collected pays for a staff that cleans downtown streets of trash and graffiti, organize special events, and act as facilitators for business operators, property owners, and the city of Stockton. It also helps to underwrite a bike patrol that keeps an eye on downtown.
Fargo said she plans to continue the “baseline” undertakings of the DSA, including the bike patrol and the street cleaning that have proved to be popular with downtown regulars and visitors alike. But she intends to put a special focus on networking with property owners and community members in the first six months of her tenure.
Fargo said the alliance can connect downtown stakeholders with resources as well as one another to promote economic development — from helping property owners understand what business concepts are most likely to thrive in an urban environment, to informing potential developers and entrepreneurs of opportunities for growth inside the district.
“It’s all about relationships. We’re not going to make the progress we need to make here until we have a real activated community,” she said. “One of my milestones that I will see for myself is to actually have the emails and phone numbers of (downtown) property owners to actually be able to reach them directly to talk about these issues, and not just when we want to complain.”
She continued: “I venture to say we’d be lucky if we had one block in the downtown where people are really, truly, seriously and in-depth talking to one another, property owner to property owner, neighbor to neighbor.”
Fargo has extensive experience in urban revitalization. Most recently, she acted for two years as the economic development manager for City Heights, a community of 91,000 in eastern San Diego. Before that, she had several stints at various community development departments and organizations, including in Escondido and Las Cruces, New Mexico. What attracted her to Stockton, she said, is the bevy of assets that make it primed for resurgence following the Great Recession and its emergence from bankruptcy protection.
“I have such great interest in communities and their revitalization and in the number of historic buildings that are here in Stockton — I think it’s really an amazing inventory of historic properties — and there are so few of those left,” Fargo said. “There are so few communities in the position that Stockton’s in, which is really poised for revitalization.”
In her view, a few key investments could make all the difference for downtown. Stockton’s public waterfront investments in the form of the marina, baseball stadium and arena have laid a good base, she said, but private investment is needed to help those assets achieve their full potential.
“I do believe that many other things have to be going on at the same time in order to support the investment that the public was making,” she said. “Strictly capital improvement is never enough. And that’s where groups like ours, for example, are really key.”
While Fargo envisions a more robust role for the alliance in terms of boosting downtown’s vitality, she’s also aware of the myriad challenges facing the area’s revitalization. That includes the city’s financial meltdown that coincided with the collapse of the local housing market and the resulting bad press. Other obstacles are economic development and affordable housing downtown — and not just affordable housing for those on public assistance, disability, or who are on the verge of homelessness. Fargo said that downtown can be home to a mix of housing, from subsidized units for those in poverty; to workforce-affordable units for teachers, police officers, and other young professionals; to high-rate premium units.
“Businesses need people. There is this whole rooftop-to-retail strategy that almost everyone knows needs to occur, and it needs to occur downtown. And we have the perfect assets downtown to convert into all kinds of housing,” she said. “I want everyone who wants to live in a cool place to be able to live downtown.”
The idea goes hand in hand with Stockton’s relatively cheap cost of living when compared with the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Fargo said Stockton could be primed to lure entrepreneurs and artists with the right sales pitch and expansion of programs like the DSA’s Business and Technology Incubator. The alliance can also assist the city with convincing investors that downtown is in a viable situation — especially, she said, with the proper incentives and policies in place.
“Developers want to go where they make money and where they can get their process accomplished relatively painlessly, where they can understand what the risk is going in, and understand that the game isn’t going to change every 15 minutes,” Fargo said.
Such incentives could include weighting development so that infill projects close to downtown are given precedent or made more affordable, and determining if the region can support more commercial growth on its fringes before it is approved by the City Council. Regardless of what form it takes, Fargo said that it will be critical that city leaders make downtown development a priority if the city’s historic center is once again to become “the heart of the city.”
“If we continue to thoughtlessly develop every inch of hinterland that we have within this county, we will likely follow in the footsteps of people who have made that similar mistake everywhere,” Fargo said. “We don’t need to do that. We need to learn from the mistakes of other communities, embrace growth, but plan for the best growth.”