A Stockton City Council vote will help two Stockton-based developers take the next step in redeveloping downtown and proving that the city’s revitalization movement can be homegrown.
On Tuesday, Dec. 16, a 7-0 vote approved separate $330,000 and $137,547 two-year loans to nonprofit developer Visionary Builders of California. The money comes from CDBG and HOME, federally funded block grant programs that give local governments the opportunity to bolster low-income housing and other projects that benefit the community.
Visionary Builders will use the money to kick-start work on a 100-unit affordable housing and retail complex at 228 and 240 N. Hunter St. called Grand View Village. Plans from the Stockton-based builder envision six stories with 100 apartments for families and individuals making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income — or $2,994 a month for a family of four. A grocery store and café are possible tenants for the ground floor, according to Zac Cort, whose company Cort Group helped Visionary secure the deal.
The new building will have frontage on Hunter Street, Miner Avenue, and San Joaquin Street. The Delta Hotel on Miner Avenue and the structure housing Donaldson’s Tire Company on Hunter Street will be purchased privately and demolished, but the building that’s home to the Avenue Inn bar on the corner of Hunter and Miner will remain, creating a hodgepodge of old and new on the north half of the block that speaks to Stockton’s eclectic character.
Stockton Economic Development Director Michah Runner called the footprint “unique” and “meandering,” adding that “This is sometimes what infill looks like.”
Runner added that the building will be somewhat pioneering, including solar technology and a rooftop daycare center. Carol Ornelas, CEO of Visionary Builders, hopes the Grand View could completely make over a block that, despite being across the street from the Cinemark 16 theater and a close walk from the redeveloped waterfront, has not lived up to its economic potential.
“This piece of property has been a very big nuisance,” Ornelas said. “I think this partnership with Zac Cort and his team is bringing some very innovative things to the area.”
One of the buildings the Grand View will replace is the Delta Hotel — an aging but in-use facility not among the hotels the city closed several years ago because they were literally falling apart. Cort, who called the hotel “poorly managed,” said anyone living there would be given assistance to find new housing when it came time to tear down the Delta.
Cort said the Grand View will improve one of the “most heavily traveled locations in downtown” and will raise the overall profile of the city in the mind of developers and investors.
“I think it’s one more step toward what we’re trying to accomplish in downtown,” he said. “It’s bringing vibrant retail and much-needed residential, and it’s a new build. It’s going to be a dominating, beautiful structure.”
Council members unanimously praised the project, which could start seeing work as soon as March 2016 if Visionary Builders qualifies for affordable housing tax credits this summer. Visionary Builders is also counting on money available through a statewide cap-and-trade tax on carbon pollution, the proceeds of which are given to developments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by building within existing transportation infrastructures.
It’s clear that capturing this creative blend of funding sources is critical to overcoming one of the obstacles cited repeatedly by those looking at downtown development — making the project pencil out financially. Apparently, the still-unsecured affordable tax credits, environmental money, and city loans will be enough to push the Grand View over the thought-to-reality hump.
Although the project is still years away from construction, it’s closer to fruition than many other proposals to retrofit or replace downtown buildings, many of which are beyond reasonable repair. Though there are several ways to save (or at least honor) the architecture that makes downtown Stockton unique, cost and return-on-investment have been stumbling blocks to renovating buildings built before earthquake and other safety codes were in place. Better to have a functional, vibrant building that’s new, than a derelict, degraded one — even if the aging building’s features are filled with character and charm.
There’s much to applaud in the project’s particulars. Namely, 36 one-bedroom, 38 two-bedroom, and 26 three-bedroom housing units for people with depressed incomes that are within walking distance of the closest thing Stockton has to a hub for social services and public transportation. It not only puts people with modest means nearby resources, it also will put more people downtown at all hours of the day, a building block for turning the neighborhood into more than a daytime business district.
Visionary Builders’ project isn’t the market-rate housing that typifies many visions of Stockton’s downtown of the future, but it’s a step toward creating a more socioeconomically diverse urban core — one that contains decent housing, as opposed to the many flophouses in the area that have fallen into disrepair. (Note to the Cort Group and Visionary Builders: When finding tenants for Grand View’s ground floor, it’s vital that the retail offered fits the budgets of those living upstairs, especially if that retail is a grocery or a market.)
Overall, the Grand View looks like a potential win for the city of Stockton. If executed as planned, it can be pointed to as proof that life can indeed be injected into downtown, and proof that revitalizing the city’s long-neglected core doesn’t need angel investment from some other place — it can start right here, with homegrown talent and a little creativity.
*Disclosure: David Garcia and Kristine Williams, who both write for SCL, are also employed by The Cort Group and Visionary Home Builders, respectively.