The city of Sacramento has launched an eleventh-hour effort to brighten up the sidewalks and street corners of downtown to make thousands of pedestrians who will hit the streets around Golden 1 Center feel safer.
Likely beginning this week, the city will install 104 pedestrian-level streetlamps on dimly lit blocks leading to the arena as well as several parts of midtown. The $1.7 million lighting program will supplement added police patrols, new police cameras and volunteer guides who will work the streets around the arena during events.
The hope is to make newcomers to downtown feel safer, and to encourage more people to stick around at bars and restaurants before and after games when the arena opens this fall.
Downtown business leaders also are trying to persuade property owners and businesses near the arena to keep building exteriors and display windows lit at night to illuminate the way for walkers and to advertise their businesses to potential new customers.
“The goal is to provide a nice, ambient feel to downtown,” said Leslie Fritzsche, a senior project manager for the city’s economic development department. “We want to make sure people feel comfortable and happy to walk down the street. It makes it feel like we are open for business.”
At the moment, that’s not the case near the arena. Most nights, the blocks around Seventh and K streets are shadowy and foreboding, with storefronts closed and few people around.
At 10 p.m. on a recent weeknight, about the time a Kings game lets out, Seventh Street near the arena was empty except for two people sitting silently in semi-darkness at a light-rail stop, one hunched over, the other reading a book. Around the corner, outside the front door of a bank, a barefoot homeless woman lay curled on the sidewalk, coughing quietly.
A trio of “Pokémon Go” players scurried into the otherwise empty St. Rose of Lima Park to punch their smartphones for a few seconds, then headed off, their chatter fading down the block, leaving the park empty.
A woman pedaling down L Street, a GoPro camera on her helmet, said she feels safer downtown on a bike. “You can go faster and get out of trouble quicker.”
She agreed that downtown needs more lighting. “Definitely. For the benefit of everyone else, absolutely.”
City officials say the street scene will look considerably different when the arena opens Oct. 4 with the first of two Paul McCartney concerts, each expected to draw more than 15,500 attendees.
Golden 1 Center and its plaza at Fifth and K streets are intended to be well-lit and lively. The arena building itself has been designed to serve as a beacon, with glass walls allowing interior light to spill onto adjoining walkways and streets.
Some nearby streets already have pedestrian-friendly lighting, including much of K Street Mall. City officials say the problem on other downtown streets is that many streetlights are several stories above the street. Their light is diffused and and sometimes blocked by awnings, trees and signs.
City crews are expected to begin this week installing old-fashioned-style acorn lights on L Street from Seventh to 14th streets, as well as Seventh Street between L and K streets, and on a block of J Street at Cesar Chavez Plaza, all of them thought to be likely pedestrian corridors between parking garages and the arena.
Pedestrian-oriented lights also will be installed in the coming months on four blocks in the Handle District in midtown, as well as on seven blocks of a mixed residential and business area of midtown.
“It’s not just benefiting the area around the arena,” Councilman Steve Hansen said. “This is more more holistic.”
He said the city doesn’t have money for sidewalk lights everywhere it wants, but hopes over time to improve lighting on more blocks as funds become available. City officials and representatives of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership walked the streets Thursday night on one of several audits to assess where crowds may choose to walk and identify poorly lit spots.
Deputy Police Chief Ken Bernard, who is on loan to the city manager’s office as arena operations manager, said the city may even install temporary lighting on event nights in some spots, if there are areas that need it.
“We are doing everything we can think of to offer a good experience,” Bernard said. “We want everyone’s experience the first time to be pleasant so that people can’t wait to come back. It is a big deal for the city, and we need to get it right.”
Safety is a chief concern for some arena-goers.
Midtown resident Doug Rowell walks and bikes on K Street downtown during evenings without much worry, but he says he expects the arena crowds to attract some criminals.
“This will be a new experience for all of us after 30 years of paying to park in a pretty safe environment at (Sleep Train Arena),” he said. When walking to the downtown arena, “we’ll be looking to attach ourselves to others walking ... for the ‘strength in numbers’ concept.”
“Street lamps are good, but I like the idea of more police bicycle units and the addition of the new surveillance cameras as a deterrent.”
Sacramentan and Kings fan George Cate, who is 70 and has a hard time walking more than a few blocks, takes a guarded approach to downtown. He’s hoping the Kings will offer disabled people a drop-off at the arena doors and good parking.
“When I go downtown, it’s usually to a restaurant, and if I can’t park close by in a well-lit area I just don’t go,” he said.
Police take more crime reports overall in the downtown core than just about anywhere else in the city, a review of police data shows. Reported crimes in the arena area occur, on average, once a day, and at all hours, with an uptick on weekend nights.
Most frequent are drug-related crimes, typically arrests for possession of marijuana or methamphetamine, police said. Other crimes, in order of numbers of occurrences this year, are thefts, break-ins and vandalism, as well as robberies and aggravated assaults.
Police spokeswoman Traci Trapani said the level of crime corresponds to the high number of people coming downtown, from workers during the day to people going to bars and clubs at night. “Downtown is unique,” she said. “We have a denser population, so we will have higher calls for service.”
Police employ an “entertainment team” of uniformed officers at night downtown who work with bars, nightclubs and restaurants. The department plans to add extra officers around the arena during event nights, and will install more cameras at intersections.
Those camera boxes, typically mounted on traffic poles, are designed to be highly visible. Each displays a large blue light, essentially sending the message that the police are either watching the intersection in real time or are recording anything that happens there.
City police and Regional Transit officials also are launching what they call a “real-time crime center” near downtown where officers will monitor camera feeds from around the downtown, including rail stations, on event nights. The arena will house a command center, staffed by Kings employees and city workers, also monitoring street cameras.
The Kings, as well, will hire off-duty city police officers to guide traffic and pedestrians on surrounding streets. Sacramento Regional Transit is adding new lighting to its downtown stops.
City crews also are redesigning some crosswalks to allow more pedestrians to cross at a time. The city also will close some streets at times to cars so pedestrians can use the entire street. Police stationed at some intersections will stop cars so pedestrians can cross.
City officials said they learned in visits to other cities with successful nightlife districts that street lighting is a critical element in creating an energetic, safe-feeling and lively environment that attracts people looking for fun.
Sacramento architect Nick Docous said it’s smart of the city to understand that. “If you go to big cities, even a Nashville or Indianapolis, with downtown arenas, their downtowns are well lit,” he said. “You feel safe on those streets.”
The fall opening date for Golden 1 Center in Sacramento is drawing near. In addition to sports and concerts, the arena will host next year's meeting of the Green Sports Alliance. Golden One Center will run entirely on solar power.
Bee reporter Phillip Reese contributed to this report.