But even though construction of the Tracy Transit Station is finished, as far as the redevelopment of downtown is concerned, it’s only one more beginning.
Downtown’s revitalization won’t end with the transit station, and it certainly didn’t begin with it.
The station — officially opened Monday — is just one of a long list of past, present and future projects meant to breathe new life into the city’s historical center, joining the already-completed streetscape, new City Hall and Grand Theatre Center for the Arts.
The station, however, offers unique promise for the future of the city, the downtown in particular.
Immediately, it brings the benefits of being a meeting place — its rooms are tailor-made for community gatherings, club meetings and event hosting — and a hub for local and regional bus lines. Both should attract more people and business to the area.
But the big-prize possibility is landing Tracy on the map as a stop along the state’s to-be-built high-speed rail network.
The station and its location should catch the eye of that project’s planners and put Tracy squarely in the race to host a commuter rail link between the high-speed rail branches expected to race north and south through both the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Such an arrangement — though it would come with its own not-insignificant crop of issues, including how to accommodate train traffic through the city and how to square that traffic with nearby residential developments — would be an instant boost.
If that does come to pass, one city official told me, “that’s going to be potentially a large benefit to downtown revitalization.” Emphasis on large.
But the reality is that the station will never achieve its full potential, high-speed rail or no, unless it’s part of a bigger plan for the Bow Tie area.
This fact hasn’t escaped city planners, who are already working on the next step in downtown redevelopment.
In the works is a plan to turn the Sixth Street-Central Avenue interchange into a public plaza. City-owned land for one block on either side of Central Avenue will be reborn as a welcome mat for downtown and a link to whatever development eventually crops up in the Bow Tie.
According to Scott Claar, an associate planner with the city who plays a large role overseeing the downtown specific plan, the nascent project is vital for the area’s revitalization.
“In a lot of ways, the downtown plaza is a key piece in this whole thing,” Claar told me. “That’s going to make the edges of the Bow Tie much more attractive for development.”
What will that development be? No one’s really sure, since the land is still owned by Union Pacific Railroad. But there are plenty of ideas.
One is high-density housing. If passenger rail does return to the Bow Tie — especially an Altamont Commuter Express-on-steroids line that links with BART and the rest of the Bay Area — housing of that type could be attractive to commuters looking for an affordable and convenient home.
Or, maybe the area could be turned into an open-air events center, a park with an amphitheatre that could play host to the Tracy Dry Bean Festival, Fourth of July party, Music in the Park or any other number of community events.
Maybe it could accommodate both.
This is, of course, putting the cart well before the horse. Before any type of development could even begin, the land, contaminated from years of active duty with the railroad, would need serious cleanup. Which is why I’d wager the city will have to offer some sort of incentive for development there to happen.
There’s also the whole matter of having the city — or, much more likely, a private developer — purchase the land.
So, for now, focus at the city is on the next step, the Sixth Street Plaza.
Claar said that its design phase should be complete by the early part of 2011. Then, it’s all about finding the money to get construction started.
“We hope to build it as soon as we can,” he said, “but it’s just a matter of funding.”
Whenever that plaza is finished, we’ll be here to acknowledge the most recent downtown revitalization project. As well as to celebrate the next beginning.
• Contact columnist and associate editor Jon Mendelson at email@example.com.