Handlebar mustaches, artisanal coffee, basket equipped bikes and a plethora of farm to table dining choices available. Did I just step into Portland? Nope. This is the scene in Midtown Sacramento.

Long derided by Bay Area residents as a stop along the way to Tahoe, Sacramento has come of age. With decades of investment, refurbishing and redevelopment of its urban core, Sacramento is reinventing itself from a once staid government town to the next great city where the young and old alike can live out a lifestyle of vibrant and intelligent urbanity.

By reinvesting into its historical central city, focusing on infill projects and a brand new NBA arena taking center stage downtown, Sacramento’s coolness factor is now something to be reckoned with.

Sacramento urban core revival

Starting in the 70s, the tide began to turn as young artists, counter-culture types, students, LGBTQ and government workers started to take over dilapidated homes in the Midtown and Downtown areas, renovating and inhabiting them. It naturally gave new life to the city.

Spurred by the demolition of the historic Alhambra Theater, a local movement advocating historical preservation began to make ground.

Government officials began prioritizing urban vibrancy, including the establishment of CADA, which slowed the demolition of historic buildings and focused on reintroducing vibrancy into key corridors, and the arresting of redlining practices that contributed to the targeted deterioration of key neighborhoods.

The last decade has seen urban vibrancy come to critical mass in neighborhoods like Midtown, which is adjacent to downtown. The atmosphere is characterized by beautifully restored 19th century Victorian and craftsman homes, a diversity of innovative food establishments, and a healthy plethora of thrift shops, high-end boutiques, bars, galleries, community centers and newly converted live/work lofts.

This scene has reinvigorated Sacramento’s urban care with a distinct urban culture that can be defined with a certain unforced quirkiness along with an unpretentious sophistication.

Reestablishing the identity of Sacramento

With the planned construction of the downtown arena, a revival of the long stalled railyards project and increased development of the West Sacramento riverfront, Sacramento is finally coming into its own. Under the leadership of Mayor Kevin Johnson, the city of Sacramento has concentrated its focus into the central city’s revitalization.

Over the past decade, over $1 billion dollars of investment has been sunk into Sacramento’s downtown. Mayor Johnson has set a goal of 10,000 new housing units to be built downtown over the next 10 years. It seems that goal will be reached with 781 units built or with construction initiated just this year, and an additional 13,000 in the planning stages.

Everywhere you look, projects are emerging.

From the development of mixed use housing on K Street, the planned construction of a Kaiser hospital in the long abandoned Railyards, the revitalization of R street as a major artistic and entertainment corridor, to The Bridge District transforming West Sacramento’s riverfront, Sacramento’s urban revival is well on its way.

Sacramento’s central city, packed with historic sites, architecture, a walkable layout, and a density of classic theaters, performance venues, restaurants and bars, is fast becoming the second entertainment destination of Northern California– closely behind San Francisco.

By establishing an attractive urban atmosphere, Sacramento will increasingly become a favored destination for cutting edge and creative businesses, and the deep talent pool they will bring with them, many of whom may see the obvious advantage of operating in an up and coming Northern Californian city with a lower cost base.

Sacramento needs not compare itself with San Francisco.

The fact is, both cities will continually be different and have their own spheres. But Sacramento’s reinvention should start with the assertion of a unique and alternative Northern Californian spirit. It is a place where a grounded sensibility and creativity can co-exist, a place where history is deep rooted but possessing a culture embracing a smart and sustainable urbanism, a pioneer city with a vibrant urban core and the wild outdoors as its backyard.

As the gilded Victorians that line the leafy streets of the “City of Trees” can attest, greatness once thrived in the city of Sacramento, and an array of urban redevelopment projects are building the stage where past glories are now returning to California’s capital city.

Frederick Kuo is a San Francisco based real estate broker, consultant and published blogger. He is a graduate of UCLA and his writing is focused on current events, real estate trends and history. He covers projects throughout Northern California and can be reached at frederickkuo.com.

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