Some Stocktonians have waited through decades of fights, busts and disappointment hoping to see the city’s downtown injected with new life. So it was fitting that an ambitious proposal won its first City Council approval only after an interminable, contentious and completely unrelated public comment period.
But the fracas over an appointment to a city commission was well worth the time for those remaining in the council chambers.
A unanimous 7-0 vote gives the city 365 days to negotiate the potential sale of eight downtown properties to Ten Space*, a Stockton-based urban development firm that wants to transform 15 blocks of the city’s historic core into a mix of market-rate housing, retail and business space. The footprint of the proposed master-planned Open Windows project stretches between Miner Avenue, Main Street, Sutter Street and Aurora Street.
The council’s decision does not commit the city to a sale, but during the one-year period, no other developer or individual will be able to legally angle for the city-owned land, which comprises three parking authority lots, two vacant parcels, and a trio of vacant and dilapidated hotels. The properties, along with numerous lots already owned by Ten Space within the project area, would give the company the critical mass to dramatically reshape the eastern half of Downtown Stockton.
Though Tuesday’s vote is only a small step in what will likely be a lengthy process, backers of revitalizing downtown were so jubilant following the vote that the council chamber doors had to be closed as Ten Space owner Zac Court was congratulated in the antechamber. The supporters were equally vocal when they addressed the City Council immediately prior to its vote.
Several residents echoed the idea that Open Windows could be a legacy project for the city, and pleaded with the council and city staff to either give the disused land and buildings away for free or dramatically cut development fees to help make the project a success.
Steve Castellanos, a self-described homegrown Stocktonian and downtown supporter who owns an architecture firm with his wife, Linda Derivi, said the problems with the city center are widely known, but workable solutions have often been lacking.
“This is the first time that I think I’ve seen from a team, a proposal to do something. And it’s time to move to that next step,” he said. “We know what’s wrong, we know what has to be done … This is an opportunity for all of us to work together to restore that downtown.”
Cindi Fargo, CEO of the Downtown Stockton Alliance, was one of several speakers who cited Cort’s deep ties to the community as a native Stocktonian and his company’s experience with urban renewal as reasons that Open Windows might succeed where other downtown proposals have failed.
“It takes years, often, to develop the kind of relationships with development and investment interests that have come to the table today during this meeting to make this Open Window proposal,” Fargo said. “We don’t have to do those 10 years of waiting.”
Praise also came from the council dais. District 2 Councilman Dan Wright, who raced to second the motion to approve the negotiating window, said this was an opportunity the city can’t afford to miss, likening its potential to that of the River Walk in downtown San Antonio, Texas, widely considered a jewel of city center development.
“You’ve got to have vision, you’ve got to have persistence, and the right things have to happen. But sometimes we don’t know those things are going to happen — and if we don’t have something in the works ready to go, then there’s a possibility we’re going to miss that train,” he said. “We’ve missed many trains in the past. So I fully support this project.”
It’s now up to city staff and the people of Ten Space to reach a price agreement for the eight pieces of land and move this downtown dream one step closer to reality.
*note: SCL editor David Garcia is also the Director of Community Development for Ten Space