By Joy Cohan
Downtown Davis is enviably blessed with attributes that both serve our community and attract visitors. There’s no denying that the presence of UC Davis is enormously helpful. Furthermore, great dining, entertainment, retail and service businesses and a walkable/bikeable environment add to the appeal.
High-quality mixed use (residential and retail) buildings also are a part of Downtown Davis’ success. They are well-recognized by economic development professionals as key to the vibrancy of a small-to-medium sized downtown. On a local level, as the former Director of Davis Downtown, I participated in numerous meetings with city staff, elected officials, downtown business owners and community members, where the goal of densification to add downtown residents was agreed upon as imperative to Davis’ economic vitality.
Several recent projects in Downtown Davis have added residents, complementing the existing dynamic of mixed use properties and nearby residential neighborhoods. Continuing this history, the proposed Trackside Center development in the Downtown Commercial Area’s Core Transition East area, promises to further these goals while expanding downtown’s potential to serve Davis’ evolving demographics. The site is on 3rd Street to the east of the Union Pacific railroad tracks, and presently houses tenants such as The Candy House of Davis, 3rd Street Jewelers and Kwan’s Framing.
Two distinct generations are experiencing a common need for attractive rental housing in settings that offer live/work/play elements. Millennials (born in the 1980s and 1990s) and baby boomers (now in their 50s, 60s and 70s) share a desire to live in well-appointed apartments that are “right-sized” for their lifestyles, and relieve them of the responsibilities of repairs, maintenance and property taxes. Furthermore, they want to be close to dining, entertainment, recreation and employment opportunities, so that driving isn’t required.
As proposed, Trackside Center answers this need with four residential floors and a fifth level featuring both residences and rooftop amenities, all atop street-level commercial uses, interior bike storage and underground parking. Varied residence sizes and configurations will accommodate both downsizing empty nesters and young professionals, as well as visiting professors and corporate executives. Who better to shop and dine in Downtown Davis on a regular basis? This sustainably-designed, iconic building would bring revitalized energy and economic benefits by replacing the two aging, one-story commercial buildings that now exist on the under-utilized property. The site’s current commercial tenants are aware of the proposed development, and have been invited to return when the enhancements come to fruition.
Over the years, Davis’ city staff members, council members, planning commissioners and residents have demonstrated enormous foresight regarding the need to balance the economic health of our community with a desire to maintain the integrity and charm of downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. In the 2001 collaborative document titled Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhoods Design Guidelines, community members express that, “Mixed-use Transition areas bordering the Downtown Commercial Area are intended to provide space for intensified mixed-use projects that maintain a residential character while also serving as a physical and use transition to the three surrounding residential neighborhoods.”
Because Trackside Center is proposed for a designated transition area, great attention has been paid to the project’s architectural design elements. Multiple setbacks and step backs, as well as a more traditional residential look and feel on the eastern edge of the building facing the Old East Davis neighborhood, demonstrate aesthetic sensitivity to the transition to residential use. Facing Third Street, the building will display a pedestrian-oriented storefront experience, with the upper floors set back from view. Along the railroad tracks, a more industrial façade will be featured, reminiscent of the site’s more than 100 year history of large, multi-story manufacturing facilities (including a 70’ high water tower) and light industrial uses.
In 2000, the City of Davis prepared a Core Area Strategy Report. In this document, the Planning Department identified more than 30 under-utilized downtown sites that could be redeveloped privately or through joint public/private partnerships. Among these was the very property upon which Trackside Center is proposed. With an eye toward this type of exciting future for Downtown Davis, the Davis Downtown and Traditional Residential Neighborhoods Design Guidelines also state that, “Proactive partnerships and incentives are required to achieve the policies identified by the 2000 Core Area Strategy Report. The projects assume that the City will use its land to actively pursue the implementation of housing and retail uses for downtown, and it should leverage its assets by engaging in partnerships with the private sector.” With the demise of the Redevelopment Agency, unfortunately, said partnership opportunities no longer exist. In spite of this, Trackside Center, LLC formed with the collaborative investment of more than 35 Davis residents whom all share a dedication to community involvement. My husband, Steve, and I are proud to be a part of this ownership group and exciting development proposal.
Projects recently proposed and in-progress in other, similarly-sized college downtowns point to the trend toward mid-rise, mixed use developments in settings similar to that of Trackside Center. A recent quote in the Corvalis (Oregon) Advocate seems particularly apropos: “Our little downtown…is becoming a burgeoning hub, with new businesses and buildings arriving all the time. We can be delighted or dismayed by all this, but the truth of the matter is, change is inevitable. Sometimes what we think we want is vastly different from what our town needs to thrive.”
May we all keep a similarly open mind when considering what benefits Trackside Center can contribute to the economic future of Davis.
Joy Cohan served as the Director of Davis Downtown from 2007-2011