It was a sunny summer Saturday the first time I stepped onto the K Street mall in downtown Sacramento. The place was deserted. That was 25 years ago, and Sacramento is still trying to figure out the K Street mall.

Sacramento Bee reporter Ryan Lillis recently interviewed me for a Sunday story about the K Street mall. I told him what I tell everybody: A successful downtown requires all entities – the city/redevelopment agency, property owners, merchants, civic institutions – to invest time, money and creativity.

Those same entities need to invest in a large dose of patience. It took Pasadena 20 years to transform Old Town from a mediocre office district that closed at 5 p.m. into a thriving urban environment. Redwood City was at the downtown revitalization game for more than 30 years before realizing substantial success.

More than 40 years have passed since Sacramento closed K Street to automobiles, which in retrospect was the first of many missteps by the city, property owners and merchants. Still, K Street appears to edge ever-closer to success. A streetscape program is planned this year, new restaurants have opened, a long-anticipated nightclub is finally under construction in the old Woolworth's building, and a problematic property owner is out of the picture.  

What K Street and all of downtown really need are thousands of additional residents. Prospects for very much market-rate residential development, however, appear extremely dim in the near term.

And then there's the rail yards redevelopment project on the north edge of downtown. Construction of infrastructure for the rail yards project began last week. I've said for some time and still believe that development on the 240-acre the rail yards site could cannibalize the rest of downtown. That doesn't mean rail yards redevelopment is a bad idea. But it could mean K Street has another few decades of gloom ahead.

– Paul Shigley