Stockton California——-Valley Superstar?

EVERY city and town has the potential for greatness.  Most towns begin on paper,  an outline of what their community will look like.  Through time, the plans are altered, often to make way for the new demands of the city.
As the city grows, planning departments are added to manage that growth, these professionals advise the cities leaders on the effects a development or building may impact a community.
The Mayor and City Council is the final word on major buildings and development.   Your local government knows a smidge  more than general public when it comes to planning.    Unfortunately, professional  recommendations and studies are sometimes ignored and elected government often make decisions based on, immediate needs, public pressure,repayment of a political debt or the oh so common, (The Jones Factor)we want that too.
The current trend is locating Arenas and Ballparks in the heart of downtown.  There are several studies that conclude, these massive building do little to increase retail,hotel stays to the surrounding areas as they are self contained, the thousands of people who attend events spend dollars within the confines of the building and while there is some residual business to surround restaurants, the impact on retail is minimal.
Too many cities lack direction.  The old plan is scrapped for a new plan, and as the years go by that action is repeated again and again to the point the  original plan is unrecognizable .   Many cities needing additional revenues,accept fragile short terms solutions. From Maine to California these single anchor supermarket shopping centers are common place.

Designed around the automobile, this is the preferred design, not only by the developers but retail business. These auto dependent designs replaced the corner store.    Because these designs are a distance from the street, the surrounding businesses are dependent on the anchor.   Should Kohl’s move or fail, the other stores are immediately affected.  If the shopping center close it will effect the values of the surrounding neighborhoods.  Reducing tax revenues for the city.
Traditional street facing retail is less depended on a anchor.    This design isn’t preferred by retail, it considerably more expensive,  and store for store, these typically generate lower dollars per square foot than a typical suburban store.  The parking of this Border is the rear of the store, it has fewer parking spaces.   The benefits to this traditional design is, it more visible from the street  not lost behind a sea of parking spaces and the surrounding businesses are less depended on the anchor.Should  Borders close, the building can be reconfigured, the impact to the community isn’t as severe.

Some cities that started out with a great plan:  Fresno, Oakland, San Diego,Seattle,and Miami lost their way . Desperate to replace revenues lost to the suburbs, ( retail and the middle class)these cities lost  focus on the central city and neglected  older neighborhoods . When opened, the Fulton Mall brought national attention to Fresno, today the tall buildings on Fresno’s  Fulton Mall are empty today.
There is very little retail in downtown
 or Miami.

Progressive cities, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Boston,and Toronto never lost their way. This cities held on to their vision.  Chicago and San Francisco took control of their skylines, these cities demanded more from developers and refused to accept bland vertical boxes. The results are unique designs that defines their cities.
Greenbelts can be found in Boston, Portland Oregon and Toronto, these cities chose not to develop every inch of the city.

Nearly three million people live in Canada’s largest city,  notice the large patch of green to the right, its nearly 10 miles long.

Most valley cities have an image/status problem. Sacramento fares better than most as the state capitol, its also benefits being the center of transportation with every major north south east west highway going through the city. The view from Interstate 5 in Sacramento looks inviting with the lights of Old Sacramento to the west and the Capitol Dome and skyline to the east.

Stockton doesn’t fare as well, like Sacramento, Interstate 5 passes through the west side of the  city, the view to the west is of an industrial area, and to the east, a view of a dark and lifeless downtown,making Stockton the city you drive through.

For those curious souls who exited I-5 discovered  a valley city with a waterfront. (Sacramento long turned its commercial back on it’s rivers many years ago)   One could tell that  was once a thriving downtown and while most building are empty, the area is well kept almost as it where waiting for business to return. .

Nearly three hundred thousand people call Stockton home, its the 4th largest city in the Valley and the 13th largest in the State.

Stockton is the first community in California to have a name not of Spanish or Native American origin.

Like many cities, Stockton’s middle class moved north and east away from the central city and following them was retail. Today, most of downtown is vacant, home to high crime (Forbes magazine calls Stockton the fifth most dangerous city in the nation)and the poor.



In the late 1990’s Stockton started transforming downtown and its waterfront. With the goal of getting residents to return. In a very short time, this city built Weber park on its waterfront.


A movie theater is located a block from the waterfront.


The city, refurbished the old 2000 seat Fox Theater (now called the Bob Hope Theater)

Constructed a 10,000 seat arena and a 5300 seat minor league ballpark


. In addition to these is a marina, luxury hotel and condominiums.



All the facilities are currently losing money, leaving the taxpayers to make up the difference.

The state of the art Arena as well as the theater,ballpark are managed by Illinois based, International Facilities Group aren’t booking acts. They blame the economy.

The Sheraton Hotel(opened in 06) went out of business and is now called the Lexington Plaza Waterfront hotel  A few months ago this hotel went out of business and an auction was held, and there were no buyers.  The condos on top of the hotel  remain unsold a casualty of the real estate burst.

There are few boats in the new marina.


PERHAPS….. it is very possible this revitalization plan might have been too ambitious.  The hope that the projects shortcomings do not impact important city services .

The downtown is barren after dark.  High density housing developments mixed with subsidized retail near may have helped.

Having said that, Stockton has to admired for completing this project in less than a decade.  Many cities up  and down the state have had plans on the drawing board for decades. Sacramento’s K Street Mall has been an issue since the 80’s, Retail abandoned Fresno’s Fulton Mall in the 70’s,  and some the land around  Oakland’s City Center has been vacant since the late 60’s.

This city is quietly getting things done.

The busiest port in the valley is in Stockton

America West, ended its commercial Stockton’s Metropolitan Airport in 2004. There were no other commercial fights out of the airport until 2006 when Allegiant Air began service to Las Vegas.  Horizon Air and Delta airline are considering flights out of the airport.


The City of Stockton has transformed the north side of its waterfront.  It’s  a new source of pride for the citizens.. It is also tells business, that this unlike larger and smaller governments, that it is a city that gets things done….    There is clearly leadership in the city, the next step is selling the city, and reversing its image in the mind of its citizens and the surrounding area.

The city is considering renegotiating its contract with ILP.   Perhaps, another management team is needed.  Nearly 2.8 million people are withing an 70 minutes of the Arena and Ballpark, (when you include, Eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties) and those two buildings remain a secret outside of Stockton.  A coalition of hotel owners and a new management company is needed, one who could market all of the cities facilities, including the Civic Auditorium.

With proper management and marketing of the cities facilities, Stockton’s image could change.  It has nearly all the pieces in place, whats missing is a signature building. and Arena,Auditorium,and Ball Park Signage off Interstate 5

If your driving on I-5 or 99, slow down and spend a few minutes in downtown Stockton, you may be surprised.