The Old Town experiment: A talk with city officials on historic Roseville
EDITOR's NOTE: There’s no doubt that Roseville’s Old Town has become an ‘entertainment district.’ The area has 10 bars, which fill up with young patrons on the weekends. But violent crime and drug activity have left the area with an uncertain future.
The city’s grand experiment in Old Town Roseville began some in earnest some 15 years ago, with the establishment of the Roseville Redevelopment Agency.
Finally, after numerous attempts and failures at revitalizing the historic district, the city had a funding mechanism in place. But then the agency was dissolved.
But the city is still taking steps to see if the run-down area can become an entertainment district, a destination spot for residents and visitors alike, with bars, nightclubs, live music and more. But just how has this experiment panned out?
The Press Tribune solicited questions from business owners and residents, and sat down with City Manager Ray Kerridge, Assistant City Manager John Sprague and City Treasurer Russ Branson to talk about Old Town.
Tell me about efforts to turn Old Town into an entertainment district?
Sprague: That is a critical part of the overall Downtown Historic Specific Plan and the idea was to use the historic district, which is a very enclosed, specific area because of the nature of the roadways and types of buildings that are down there, it suited itself for things like outdoor entertainment, and the draw there would be primarily on the entertainment side.
What businesses have received city or redevelopment agency loans in Old Town, and how are they doing?
Sprague: We have assisted nearly all of the buildings and property owners through what had been our development agency. We had financing to improve exterior facades, and we have worked with property owners to turn vacant hotels into studios, one-bedroom apartments. Old Town had the oldest infrastructure in the city and that’s all been updated and modernized to 21st century standards, which was funded largely through the former redevelopment agency and our utilities.
A reader asks: I have tried without success to have the “Old Roseville” signage fixed and get nothing but lip service over cost, who owns it and what could be done. Here’s a thought: The city (works) in conjunction with Roseville High School as a shop project to restore the sign. What are your thoughts?
Kerridge: Good idea. We want to get that sign fixed. It’s not a cop-out, but we don’t own the sign and we don’t have any codes — we can’t call it a dangerous building or a dangerous structure. It’s not city property, so our enforcement tools are limited. … It’s not an enforcement issue. It’s not a code issue. It’s a visual issue.
Sprague: The sign was funded and installed by the Historic District Merchants Association (with) the permission of the property owner. The city is very interested in partnering with the property owner, the merchants, whoever so we can get that sign repaired so it can provide the proper kind of entry and welcome into the historic district.
Is there a plan to clean up the living in Old Town? Specifically, the Barker and Roseville hotels. One business owner called the hotels “snake dens.”
Kerridge: Since redevelopment has gone away, it has limited our funding options. We would like to see the accommodations upgraded there. … This is one of those cases where redevelopment would really have helped, and not having it is a significant drawback for us. There were plans to change the single-room occupancies of the Barker and make them bigger, make them more studios or efficiency units.
Sprague: There could have been physical improvements done to the properties. And the agency could’ve invested and, in return, there would have been certain expectations in terms of management … Because it’s not just the physical condition of the units. It’s also the type of management you have there.
Branson: Redevelopment didn’t just have money. It’s the ability to partner with private owners. (The city) can’t go in and give money to private individuals for their private property. That’s not what we do with tax money.
What about plans to improve parking in Old Town?
Sprague: Parking has expanded dramatically with the lease of the property at Lincoln and Main streets and the city invested significant amounts of money in terms of improving the site, lighting the site, striping it, landscaping it, so that’s added several hundred parking spaces. … Right now, we think, given the level of activity in the historic district there is plenty of parking.
Can you talk more about (efforts to get more of a mix in Old Town)?
Sprague: The city and its redevelopment agency entered into exclusive rights to negotiate with two different companies for two new residential developments in the historic district — one was going to be at Washington and Main, and the other was going to be at Washington and Church. We continue to hold hope that we will find a way to finance them, but they did rely heavily on the housing portion of redevelopment to make those work.
The agency acquired one of those sites, which is the vacant property at Washington and Main streets, but it is all caught up in the unwinding process for redevelopment. We hope to gain control of that property again and then continue to pursue residential development. I believe that was somewhere around 70 units, with ground floor commercial and retail. So, it would have made a huge move toward the kind of district and commercial area that we were driving for.
Kerridge: We believe there needs to be a different mix in Old Town. It’s going to be an entertainment area, but there needs to be more restaurants … and different kinds of drinking establishments … and more residential and commercial and retail. That was the big picture, and it’s kind of gotten knocked sideways a little bit with the (dissolution) of redevelopment.
There are 10 bars in Old Town. Are there plans to attract other sorts of businesses?
Kerridge: You’ve got to get some more restaurants down there so any age demographic can go there and have a good night out. Right now, the focus is on the younger people. One way to change that is with the entertainment permit, which goes into effect on July 1 and gives the city more say in what kinds of activities go on in Old Town. For example, it gives the police department more authority in regards to dress code.
Does the dress code relate to gang activity in the area?
Has there been an increase in gang activity?
Kerridge: There have been issues for quite awhile. Not on a continuing basis, but every once in awhile you get a flare up. You get that anywhere. When you get gangs, gangs are wearing gang colors, and if we have dress codes, you can’t come in if you have gang colors on. … The goal is to have a really safe environment in Old Town.
What’s the response from nearby residents to Old Town in terms of changes in Old Town?
Kerridge: When we get a heavy Saturday night, we do get complaints every now and again about people leaving and getting noisy. We don’t get a lot of negative stuff from the surrounding neighbors, but we know they’re concerned and we’re concerned … It’s not so much what’s happening now, but what we want it to be and what kind of impact that will have. We need to be talking to the neighbors, because the bigger it gets, the more popular it gets, there’s going to be some collateral things that go with it — noise, parking, that kind of stuff.
Does the city have a timeframe when things might start to change in Old Town?
Kerridge: We were on a timeframe when we had redevelopment. There’s this whole unwinding, and we have to work with the Department of Finance and the State Controller, and there are 400-plus redevelopment agencies (trying to) get the status of their properties figured out. So, in the meantime, we have to work on the things we have control over.
Sprague: Within the past two or three years, we completed $13 million in infrastructure — roadways, waterlines, sewer lines, underground electric. We have set the stage for new development and redevelopment with use of the existing buildings.
Branson: We put in a Mello Roos district so the property owners maintain the improvements. We want to make sure that wasn’t a drain on taxpayers, so the property owners maintain the landscape improvements (made by the city). … We’re not going to go out and bring in a new restaurant. We’re not in the restaurant business. We’re in the business of creating the environment for private investment to happen.
Sprague: We’re not done by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a matter of now figuring out what the new financing models will be. … We are now far more reliant on the private sector, which in some ways is probably better because you’re going to be testing and viability and feasibility of these projects to a much deeper extent.
There have been questions about the money the city has invested in downtown and historic district, and I want it to be clear that these funds were dedicated to these types of projects and could not have been used for operational purposes.
The owner of The Station, a business outside Old Town, asks: The city encourages entertainment venues to provide rich and diverse cultural experiences for residents and visitors. Why have 96 percent of all citations issued by police for dance violations been issued to only one restaurant outside the zone, The Station, and only on its Latin dance nights?
Kerridge: That’s a very interesting question. I think I’ll refer you to our city attorney. We don’t issue citations just for the fun of it. There are reasons.