SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — It’s a stretch of the Sacramento River that is so close to downtown, yet no one comes to see it.
One big reason came in the 1960s when Interstate 5 was built beside the river and became a virtual blockade to the water.
Now, the city of Sacramento is brainstorming new ways to reclaim the riverfront. Like a bend in the powerful river, Sacramento is seeking to change the story of its riverfront by starting a new chapter.
They’ve hired Richard Rich, a former Walt Disney imagineer, to help find the answer.
He worked in Orlando and Los Angeles and became an expert at turning imagination into reality. His focus was bringing people to a place for a story and what he calls an emotional response.
“That’s an art, really, and the key to me is finding people that are artists,” he said.
His eyes are focused on the one constant over the years.
“Ironically, the view right now is the view that really most people don’t see of this river, and that is the river itself,” he said.
Rich says the Sacramento River presents a challenge different from other riverfront cities, like Portland.
They’ve embraced the Willamette River, creating green space right at the water’s edge.
“That’s something we can’t do here because our water’s edge comes up and down,” he said.
But that’s not stopping his imagination.
“There’s a barge or two in Old Sac where people can get to the water,” he said. “But what if there was an entire embarcadero at that level?”
It’s part of a new approach that Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is promoting.
“I think it requires money, but it also requires creativity, and it requires partnership between the public sector and the private sector,” he said.
Rich’s riverfront map focuses on a 3.5-mile stretch of the river between Discovery Park and Miller Park where the city wants to develop. He’s created nine zones and mapped out where three new bridges are planned to span the river between Sacramento and West Sacramento.
On the other side of the river, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon is also prioritizing development. The city is the home to a new eye-catching entertainment venue.
“We have an opportunity to create something that’s really iconic and meaningful and part of the destination for the waterfront anchoring both sides of the river but also different parts of the water on both sides,” he said.
Together, the cities are working on a plan to create a New York City High Line-inspired art walk on top of the century-old I Street Bridge.
“To take your time and enjoy the river, and to be part of the waterfront experience,” he said.
Plans along the riverfront aren’t new. Stepping inside the Department of Transportation’s library and history center is like unlocking a time capsule of what could have been.
In the 1960s when planners tore down a part of Downtown Sacramento to build Interstate 5, promises included a fisherman’s wharf, and esplanade and riverfront housing.
Five decades later, the only thing that stands is Interstate 5, and it’s blamed for decades of failed efforts to bring people back to the river. It’s something Steinberg calls a conundrum of riverfront development.
But all of these ideas to change the present-day riverfront come down to one thing.
“Funding is going to be the issue on all of these ideas,” Rich said.
Steinberg has suggested redirecting some of the $230 million planned for convention center expansion to riverfront development while relying on public-private partnerships.
Rich says he’d like the city to host 100 events a year along the river, giving people a reason to return to the water again and again.