Provocative Riverfront Property Proposal Draws Praise, Criticism

An ambitious and potentially far-ranging proposal to revitalize a 45-acre chunk of public property next to the Sacramento River—currently home to the Civic Center and the rodeo arena—was met this week with anger, excitement, curiosity and some confusion.

The proposal involves the two sections in blue. Photo by Jon Lewis.

On Tuesday, after listening to the proponents and commenters for more than two hours, the Redding City Council voted unanimously to have the city manager schedule a series of public workshops to study the proposal more fully and gather more public input. Dates and locations will be announced at the council’s Oct. 5 meeting.

What’s at stake

A team composed of the McConnell Foundation, K2 Development Co., Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Populous Inc. (a global design firm represented Tuesday by Redding native Michael Lockwood, a principal architect with the firm who spoke from Paris via video) has offered to purchase and develop the riverfront property.

Michael Lockwood discussed the proposal via video from France. Photo by Jon Lewis.

Specifically, the team (referred to in the letter of intent as the “D&D Group) is offering to explore “dream big” possibilities for the riverfront area “including what it would take to build a top-tier conference center, multi-use sporting venues, outdoor entertainment destinations as well as mixed-use residential, restaurants and public space opportunities.”

The Redding Rodeo is a cherished tradition for many. Photo by Jon Lewis.

Shannon Phillips, chief operating officer for the McConnell Foundation, called the proposal a way to reimagine the north riverfront area that will showcase Redding’s natural beauty. She said central to the project will be working with the principal stakeholders: Advance Redding, the nonprofit operating the Civic Auditorium, and the Redding Rodeo Association, the group producing the annual Redding Rodeo.

Phillips also promised to involve all parties “who hold this area near and dear.”

Lockwood, a Shasta High School graduate whose grandfather opened the Lockwood Tire Center, said his favorite childhood memory is the Asphalt Cowboys’ annual pancake breakfast. After rattling off some noteworthy Populous projects he’s been involved with (Camden Yards in Baltimore, the downtown Sacramento Convention Center, Oracle Park in San Francisco and the recent “Field of Dreams” ballpark in Iowa) Lockwood said he’s excited to bring his firm’s energy and expertise to his home town.

Lockwood expanded on the idea of the riverfront area becoming “Basecamp Redding,” a center for retreats and other gatherings that integrates the river’s allure (fishing, kayaking, walking trails) with other potential attractions like ziplines and helicopter tours.

Public comments

The design team’s offer was unsolicited and, as typical with real estate negotiations, the offer was slated to be considered in closed session at the council’s Sept. 7 meeting. That raised some alarms and concerned phone calls, which prompted Mayor Erin Resner to table any closed-door discussions and move the item to Tuesday’s regular agenda.

Richard Gallardo said he opposed the project and suggested the council violated California’s open meeting laws by even considering it in closed session. Dolores Lucero, another frequent critic of local government, said the council was not representing Redding’s citizens and could face a recall effort if it persisted.

Joshua Johnson, a father of four young daughters, said he was intrigued by the proposal and envisioned it providing more opportunities for his kids to interact with nature. “This will add to Redding,” Johnson said, describing it as a chance to bridge Redding’s past with its future.

Eric Hiatt, a Redding developer and a board member for Advance Redding, said he enjoyed the spirited give-and-take but wanted to express his support even though he felt the project was “proposed poorly.” He said Advance Redding supports the revitalization proposal and he described Populous, McConnell, Turtle Bay and K2 Development as “great partners.”

David Ledger urged the council to protect riparian habitats. Photo by Jon Lewis.

David Ledger, president of Shasta Environmental Alliance, urged the council to make protection of riparian habitat a priority. Lisa Michaud added that open greenspace is important for child development. The Redding native added that this community is not interested in another San Antonio (Texas) Riverwalk. Aleta Bussard called Redding “an old-fashioned logging community. We need to keep our values.”

“This is not about buying or selling,” cautioned Redding business owner Dan Morrow. “We have an invitation to a discussion. These guys are putting money on the table to hear us” and what residents want on the riverfront. “It’s a marvelous opportunity; let’s do it.”

Councilwoman Julie Winter said she’s “intrigued and excited about this project.” During her 31 years in Redding, she said people “are always asking about what to do with the riverfront.”

Council member Mark Mezzano, left, and Mayor Erin Resner.  Photo by Jon Lewis.

Councilman Mark Mezzano reminded the audience that the council will not be rushing into anything but that “we’re listening to you.” Earlier in the meeting he noted the concerns expressed to him about selling city property and he vowed “if these people don’t want to do it, we’re not going to do it.”

Councilwoman Kristen Schreder, while expressing her support for the public workshops, called the proposal “the beginning of a conversation.”

Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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