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Giant Office Projects Sprout in Downtown Sacramento

With tens of thousands of public employees migrating to its downtown every weekday, Sacramento is very much a company town. So it is no surprise that a gigantic new building by far the largest in the Central Valley at 10th and I streets provides offices for state workers. Nearly 3,100 employees of the six agencies and the administrative office that comprise the California Environmental Protection Agency are scheduled to finish moving into the new CalEPA building by the middle of this month. The 25-story, L-shaped tower occupies one square block, providing 950,000 square feet of office space. The new CalEPA building is only one of several major public projects in downtown Sacramento. The Department of General Services began construction earlier this year on the largest state office project in California history the 1.5 million-square-foot Capitol East End Complex. Across the street from the new CalEPA building, the City of Sacramento is planning to build a 200,000-square-foot city hall. The Capitol Area Development Authority is pursuing a number of market-rate and affordable housing projects within about 5 blocks of the Capitol building. And the city is behind the Sheraton now under construction on J Street, next to the Sacramento Convention Center The new CalEPA building is interesting for a number of reasons, including the city-state pact behind the project. In the mid 1990s, CalEPA Director James Strock decided to combine the agency's offices, which were spread across downtown Sacramento and beyond. CalEPA negotiated with representatives of West Sacramento to construct a new headquarters, and it appeared the state agency would relocate to the Yolo County community. But Sacramento's mayor, the late Joe Serna, did not want to see a major state agency move to the other side of the Sacramento River. Eventually, Sacramento and state officials cut a deal that called for the city to build the $170 million structure now standing at 10th and I. The state leases the entire building from the city and must rely on some city services, including a parking garage. In 25 years, the state can purchase the building for $1. "I think this is a pretty unique agreement," summed up Theresa Parsley, the project manager for CalEPA. The city built the tower expressly to suit the state's needs. State officials have received some criticism for not building enough "green" items into the headquarters of an agency that is supposed to protect California's environment. State officials concede a number of items were added late in the process at least partly because of pressure from state lawmakers but officials defend the project as environmentally sensitive. For example, energy meters are located throughout the building, which will help control electricity usage, Parsley said. Much of the carpet and paint is recycled, as is about half of the steel. Photovoltaic cells lie atop a portion of the building, and space is set aside for a fuel cell that could generate electricity on site. Additionally, the facility has 150 indoor spaces for employee bicycle parking, another 50 bicycle spaces in the garage, and 25 spots in front of the building. Showers and lockers are located on-site. In fact, said Parsley, employees have already reserved all bicycle spaces, while about 500 of 1,300 parking spaces remain available. The state encourages carpools and use of light rail, which stops only one block from the new building, she said. Already, the Department of General Services, which is responsible for most state buildings, is learning from the CalEPA project. The East End Complex is designed for energy efficiency, will have photovoltaic panels, and will rely on recycled materials ranging from asphalt and concrete to glass and drywall. Even the historic marble flooring from the renovated Jesse Unruh and State Library buildings will gain new life in the East End Complex. While the CalEPA building is a tower, the $390 million East End project ranges from three to seven stories and covers several blocks between 14th and 17th streets, and L and O streets. The facility will provide workspace for 6,300 employees of the departments of Education, Health and General Services who are now spread in 19 buildings across town. Aileen Adams, secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency, estimated the consolidation would save the state $220 million over 30 years. A 1995 Urban Land Institute study recommended the site, where run-down businesses, motels and apartments had stood. The East End Complex, however, lacks the housing envisioned by planners. General Services spokesman Ken Hunt said the project extends the Capitol mall farther into residential neighborhoods but is sensitive to the area, said. The target completion date is 2003. Although overshadowed by the state government, the City of Sacramento has a significant presence downtown. Earlier this year, the City Council voted to proceed with a $50 million civic center behind the current city hall on I Street. The city conducted a public workshop in late November to help refine the project's design. City officials say that 720 staff members, most of whom now work in leased buildings, will fill the new offices. The office consolidations downtown only increase an already substantial demand for housing in downtown Sacramento, said Paul Schmidt, interim executive director of the Capitol Area Development Authority, a joint powers authority between the city and state that covers a 42-block area of downtown. "I believe people need to think of it as a campus," Schmidt said of the East End Complex. "I think we can anticipate 6 to 7% of the people who work there wanting to live in the adjacent area." Sacramento's ever-worsening traffic congestion and the continued revival of the K Street Mall offer additional incentives for people to live within walking distance of state offices, he said. Downtown housing prices have risen 15% in the last year, and one of CADA's most ambitious projects could provide a gauge of just how hot the market is. Capitol Park Homes is a development of 64 single family units to be sold next year at market rates. Although prices have not been set yet, Schmidt expects the houses to sell for $180,000 to $300,000 apiece, which would put them toward the higher end of the regional market. Nearby, the CADA Warehouse project will bring 106 for-sale lofts to the R Street Corridor. And work is nearly complete on a mixed-use project that includes 69 upper-end apartments on 16th Street. Contacts: Theresa Parsley, California Environmental Protection Agency, (916) 322-5322. Paul Schmidt, Capitol Area Development Authority, (916) 322-2114. CADA website: www.cadanet.org City of Sacramento website: www.ci.sacramento.ca.us Capitol East End Complex website: www.resd.dgs.ca.gov/Projects/EastEnd/default.asp