Powerhouse Science Center Ignites Sacramento Riverfront Revival

An overhead view of the Powerhouse Science Center in Sacramento.

Powerhouse Science Center Ignites Sacramento Riverfront Revival

July 11, 2018 | By The Railyards

Rendering courtesy of Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture.

In spring of 2018, shovels in hand, City and state leaders broke ground on the new Powerhouse Science Center at the site of the historic Pacific Gas & Electric Power Station building located just west of the Sacramento Railyards.

A ten year journey has finally culminated in the beginning of construction on this cornerstone project of the Sacramento Riverfront revival.

Read on to learn more about the Powerhouse Science Center, the part it plays in the innovation and historic preservation of Sacramento, and how it will help breath new life into the Sacramento riverfront.

Powerhouse Science Center’s Role in the Sacramento Riverfront Revival

Sacramento sprung up in the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers during the Gold Rush. The two rivers played a major role in the development of the City. But for a City shaped by the river, Sacramento’s riverfront has been largely neglected for generations.

For more than 30 years, plans to breathe new life into Sacramento’s riverfront have been in development. And it appears that now is the time for the City to embrace its heritage with projects that will revive the areas near the water.

With so many plans in the works and projects under development, the Sacramento Riverfront is a soon-to-be destination spot for travelers and locals, alike.

Leading the charge in these projects is the Powerhouse Science Center, as it is slated to be the first project to the north of Old Sacramento that will be completed.

What is the Powerhouse Science Center?

For years called the Discovery Science Museum, and currently located on Auburn Blvd., the museum has long served the surrounding communities with kid-friendly exhibits and a natural history museum, offering after-school and summer programs.

However, with the relocation of the Powerhouse Science Center to the soon to be renovated Power Station building, the science center is going to utilize increased funding to spread its wings and become an industry leader.

As the Powerhouse Science Center describes:

“The new center will serve as a model for 21st-century experiential education centers in science, technology, engineering, math, and space, helping to prepare the next generation workforce.”

Development and construction costs, as well as educational mission goals, will become a reality due to a number of public-private partnerships. Key supporters in closing the funding gap for the project are the City of Sacramento, Sacramento Regional Sanitation District, Sacramento Sewer District, and SMUD, who stepped in at the last minute to close the funding gap. Their $9.25 million contribution not only makes the project possible but also earns them naming rights on the science center.

The Power Station Building

Originally built in the Beaux Arts Style, by architect Willis Polk in 1912, the historic Pacific Gas & Electric power plant is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will undergo historic renovation.

A two-story addition off of the buildings east side will house a lobby, offices, classrooms, and a cafe, as well as a state-of-the-art full-dome digital planetarium.

The completed 50,000 square foot structure – designed by Sacramento-based architect firm Dreyfuss + Blackford – and surrounding grounds will incorporate the Robert T. Matsui Waterfront Park and Sacramento Tree Foundation's Hanami Line to create a dynamic new campus right on the Sacramento River.

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3 Projects Inspiring the Sacramento Railyards

3 Projects Inspiring the Sacramento Railyards

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Other Riverfront Development Plans in the Works

The Powerhouse Science Center is just one of many exciting projects in development along the Sacramento riverfront, joined by the new I Street Bridge and The Railyards development.

The first scheduled for completion among these projects, the Science Center will be a focal point of innovation, history, and community on the riverfront.

I Street Bridge

The existing I Street Bridge, which spans over the Sacramento River, is over 100-years old. It’s narrow lanes are unable to accomodate buses and bicycles, and it’s not accessible to all pedestrian traffic.

The I Street Bridge replacement project plans to construct a new bridge upstream of the existing I Street Bridge. The existing bridge will still continue to be used by the railroad while the new bridge will improve mobility for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians crossing the Sacramento River between The Sacramento Railyards and West Sacramento.

Currently accepting submissions from architects for the new bridge, the cities foresee an impressive showing.

“Given the prominence of this project, we anticipate receiving proposals from world-renowned bridge architects,” said Jesse Gothan, project manager for the City of Sacramento. “The cities are looking for an iconic functional design that captures the vision of both cities.”

The new bridge will span the Sacramento River, helping to ease travel for the 10,000 cars that cross the river daily.

The Sacramento Railyards

The Railyards development – one of many riverfront neighborhood developments that are underway – incorporates a vision for a vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood.

The Railyards plan includes the following for the 244+ acre development:

  • 6,000 - 10,000 proposed residential units
  • 500,000 - 700,000 sq ft proposed retail space
  • 5M sq ft proposed office space
  • 175,000 sq ft museum
  • 900,000 Kaiser Permanente hospital
  • Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium
  • 1,000 room hotel
  • 30+ acres of open green space
  • 18-story courthouse with 53 courtrooms

While it may be the largest undertaking among them, The Railyards isn’t the only riverfront neighborhood development project with a vision of riverfront revitalization at its core.

Various Riverfront Concepts and Projects

Many riverfront neighborhoods, districts, and projects are in the works. Whether in the conceptual, planning, development, or construction phase, these projects all share a vision for the Sacramento riverfront revival:

The continued forward momentum of these project will come together to revitalize and invigorate the Sacramento Riverfront.

Bridging History and Innovation

The Science Center will be centrally situated between and within walking distance of both the California State Railroad Museum on Front Street in Old Sac and the soon-to-be sister Railroad Technology Museum in the historic Central Shops district of The Railyards development.

The California State Railroad Museum

With more than 600,000 paying visitors per year, the Railroad Museum focuses on California’s long and storied relationship with trains as well as the influence it had on the history of the nation.

Rotating exhibits focus on historic moments in time while the permanent collection of 19 meticulously maintained steam locomotives illustrate the development of steam technology from 1862 to 1944.

The Railroad Technology Museum

Housed in what was once a working Southern-Pacific Railroad shop, the Railroad Technology Museum will feature dynamic, hands-on exhibits that both highlight the past, showcase the present, and explore the future.

Publicly accessible, the Restoration Shop will continue the work of craftspersons and artisans, alike, through the support of Vocational Educational training programs.

It seems that everywhere you turn in Sacramento there is new construction or renovation taking place for the betterment of the city, carefully preserving our past while launching full thrust into a bright future.

The Sacramento riverfront is no exception.

Historically, there is no area of Sacramento that has had more influence on the growth and industry of our city than the riverfront.

The time has come to celebrate that heritage by reviving and utilizing the riverfront for education, entertainment, and industry, beginning with the completion of the long-awaited Powerhouse Science Center, a beacon of innovation and jewel of the city’s heritage.

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