Sacramento is a river city, enjoying a unique natural setting at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. But Downtown Sacramento is cut off from these natural resources, separated from the waters by levees and an Interstate freeway. The Railyards project brings a new opportunity for Downtown to connect to the rivers, making them a more integral part of the Downtown experience.
A City on the Confluence
The Sacramento and American Rivers shaped more than just the geography of Sacramento. In the 1800s, as gold miners flocked to the area from around the world, Sacramento’s waterfront location made it a prime trading spot for miners and merchants and provided an easy way to get supplies to the growing population of California.
The Sacramento Railyards: Connecting Downtown to the Rivers
Today, the rivers are a highly valued recreational resource. The American River Parkway, known as the “Jewel of Sacramento”, brings over 5 million annual visitors to enjoy 23-miles of wildlife, fishing, boating, rafting, golfing, picnic sites, and natural and historic tours. Its extensive system of trails and open spaces link the confluence with outlying communities. But there’s no direct access point from Downtown Sacramento.
In decades past, construction of railroad levees and the I-5 freeway essentially cut off Downtown Sacramento from both the Sacramento and American Rivers.
However, The Railyards area is located in a pivotal position between Downtown and the rivers, and its redevelopment brings fresh opportunities to create new connections that will make the rivers a more integral part of the Downtown experience.
The Railyards Specific Plan has outlined a goal in its redevelopment, Plan Goal #8: reconnect Downtown and the Central City with the rivers.
In conjunction with the River District Area Plan to the north, the Railyards Specific Plan calls for new links to be created between downtown and the American River Parkway by way of 5th, 7th and 10th Streets.
The Railyards’ Plan also calls for stronger connections to the Sacramento River by way of linkage beneath the I-5 freeway viaducts. This will create direct pedestrian connections between Old Sacramento and the historic Central Shops complex of the Railyards, and result in pedestrian and bicycle linkages to West Sacramento by way of the new I Street Bridge.
The Railyards Riverfront District
The Railyards Plan doesn’t stop at connecting Downtown with the waterfront. The Railyards has a role to play in Sacramento’s riverfront revival through the development of a Riverfront District situated along the Sacramento River.
The Railyards Riverfront District will revitalize the underutilized waterfront through the creation of public parks and open space that ensure visual and physical access to the waterfront.
Riverfront Park is a public park planned for the Riverfront District that combines riparian planting with active uses, water access, and smaller gathering spaces. The park allows for a mix of active and passive uses that will draw users from all districts and from around the city.
The Riverfront District will establish enhanced accessibility to one of Sacramento’s most precious amenities and will enable the community to utilize the waterfront for recreation and entertainment, as well as offer visitors a unique and memorable experience in the heart of Sacramento.
Powerhouse Science Center Ignites Sacramento Riverfront Revival
Under construction, the Powerhouse Science Center will be the first project to be completed north of Old Sacramento and is sparking the riverfront revival.
Riverfront Projects and Plans in Sacramento
Over the past decade, more than $1 billion in public and private investments have been made in Downtown Sacramento, with projects including the Golden 1 Arena, DOCO (Downtown Commons) area, and many more.
But Downtown isn’t the only area that’s been selected for revitalization. Sacramento is planning plenty of ways to rejuvenate the Riverfront and reconnect with the water.
The Powerhouse Science Center will provide a major anchor to the riverfront. The $50 million project will redevelop a 106-year old historic power plant structure into a 50,000 square foot campus featuring dome planetarium and 22,000 square feet of exhibit space at 400 Jibboom Street.
The I Street Bridge replacement project aims to replace the current, aging I Street Bridge with a new bridge that spans the Sacramento River. The new bridge will link C Street in West Sacramento to Railyards Boulevard in Sacramento. The new bridge will provide a crossing for automobiles, cyclists, and pedestrians, while the existing I Street Bridge will continue to be used by the railroad.
In June 2017, the Cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento held a Riverfront Renaissance community event. The community forum presented plans for a number of planned projects and improvements on both sides of the river, including:
- Broadway Bridge Project
- R Street Pedestrian Bridge
- Sacramento Docks Area
- Miller Park Redevelopment
- Pioneer Bluff and Stone Lock Reuse Project
- Bridge District
The Crocker Art Museum recently announced its plans to develop 3-acres of unimproved land into multi-functional civic space, the Crocker Park. Crocker Park will be transformed into a public, art-focused gathering place that includes multi-level parking space.
Alan Maskin, principal architect for Olson Kundig, the Seattle-based architect firm selected to head this project, has ideas for the space that include a parking structure with a rooftop park that provides views of the nearby river. While the Crocker is separated from the river by I-5, it is within walking distance of Downtown, The Railyards, the Bridge District, and Raley Field. This close proximity and desire to incorporate river views into its design earns it an inclusion on our list of riverfront revitalization projects.
Sacramento is a City that sprung from and is defined by its rivers. Now, it’s setting its sights on the waterfront. Through ambitious development projects and river crossings, Sacramento is looking toward a future where the riverfront is a true destination and integral part of life for residents and visitors.
Photo courtesy of Eli Margetich.