Many political leaders have begun to explore plans to reopen parts of the economy. (Shutterstock illustration)

Bringing Downtown Back

Michael Ault of Downtown Sacramento Partnership talks about businesses reopening

Back Q&A May 8, 2020 By Graham Womack

Although the number of known cases of the coronavirus continue to increase, and federal officials are projecting as many as 3,000 daily deaths in the United States by June, many political leaders have also begun to explore plans to reopen parts of the economy. 

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement May 4 that the second phase of this reopening will begin May 8 and will include “some retail, manufacturing, and logistics businesses.” The statement added that retail businesses allowed to officially reopen with curbside pickup include lower-risk industries such as bookstores, sporting goods stores, clothing stores and florists. Hair salons, gyms and movie theaters remain closed.

On May 7, Newsom reiterated these plans during a news conference and offered social-distancing guidelines for retailers, manufacturers and warehouses.

Shortly before Newsom’s first announcement, Comstock’s spoke with Downtown Sacramento Partnership Executive Director Michael Ault about what a limited reopening might look like in the Sacramento region and the continued challenges for local businesses.

What is the appetite among downtown businesses for reopening right now?

Michael Ault is executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. (Photo courtesy of Michael Ault)

I think one of the things we realized … (is) downtown’s regional identity is important because it really is this (Sacramento) region’s downtown.

I think the business community is absolutely eager to get back to business. While I think people are trying to have an online presence … we know the brick-and-mortar experience of getting people to come back downtown is critical. But people are frustrated, and people want to reopen.

We understand the need to be safe and be cautious about how we’re doing it. We are seeing the governor start indicating that this is going to end soon, (though) especially for the hospitality industry as it relates to restaurants and bars, things are going to look a lot different.

It’s been pretty devastating for many of our businesses, and people are absolutely looking forward to turning the corner. But the reality with this is it’s going to require people down here to be able to support them. So getting workers back is going to be important.

It seems the hospitality industry has a two-fold challenge, which is ensuring social distancing and the fact there’s a lot less travel going on. How do we bring the downtown hospitality industry back — what kind of steps need to be taken?

We’ve worked with Mike Testa and the team over at Visit Sacramento. We need to be focusing on turning the corner. … When you look at the hospitality community, when people begin to travel again, they want to have some understanding of the communities they’re coming to, what resources are available, what restaurants, what things. It’s going to be a really focused communication and marketing strategy to be able to tell people, “We are back open.”

What sort of tentative reopening date are you working with for downtown? When do you envision moving into that phase?

What we’re hearing from a lot of the small businesses, from a lot of the office tenants, that people see June 1 as a date when a lot of people are hopeful that they’ll be able to start transitioning back to bringing people back.

But there’s still a lot of questions: What does that look like for office space? What does that look like for (the Downtown Sacramento Partnership) for example, with our staff? What’s safe distancing? Are people going to look to rotate hours of when people are in? Does that mean staggering days?

I don’t think people really know yet, but I think we’re hopeful starting June 1 we’re going to start seeing office and hopefully some of the hospitality as it relates to restaurants … start looking at some level of transition coming back in. But a lot of this is going to rely on what the state is going to authorize, what (Sacramento) County is going to approve.

Is the annual Concerts in the Park outdoor music festival held at Cesar Chavez Park going to happen this year?

No. We made the decision and talked to all of our sponsors … of having to postpone the season until next year. Now, that doesn’t say that into summer or something, we might be able to do some events or do a benefit concert or something like that. But the season of our Friday night concerts from May to July is something we pushed off to next year (with some virtual concerts planned for this year.)

We’re starting to think about winter programming. Come October is when we start construction for holiday ice rinks and “Theater of Lights” (in Old Sacramento) and all these things. We’ve got questions of is that going to happen?

We continue to say we’re very hopeful we can but these are evolving discussions. The impact and the safety of our staff, the safety of the guests and visitors of these events is a priority. We’re hopeful but we’re trying to be as thoughtful as we can in this. … Virtual events and communications (have their) place, but it’s not the long-term solution.

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