The Crocker Art Museum is in the very early stages of developing the adjacent Crocker Park, with an anticipated groundbreaking in 2020. Photos courtesy Crocker Art Museum

Art in the Park

Can $40 million Crocker Park development project drive further riverfront revitalization?

Back Web Only Sep 26, 2018 By Graham Womack

Anyone who has ever tried to park in the 100 or so street spaces around Crocker Park in downtown Sacramento knows an open spot can be hard to find.

The Crocker Art Museum draws 275,000 visitors annually. Photos courtesy Crocker Art Museum

The adjacent Crocker Art Museum relies on the spaces for event parking. So do the nearby Golden 1 Center, Old Sacramento and Raley Field, with River Cats fans able to park by the Crocker, walk across the Tower Bridge into West Sacramento and duck a $10 fee to park at the ballpark.

“The No. 1 visitor complaint at the museum is a lack of parking,” says Lial Jones, executive director for the Crocker Art Museum. “It’s also the No. 1 reason people cite for not visiting. So we’ve got a parking issue that we’re trying to address.”

Related: School of Thought 

Related: The Creative Divide

An ambitious project in the very early stages by the museum and other partners could tackle this and much more. The museum announced in July that it had hired Seattle architectural firm Olson Kundig and Bay Area landscape firm Surfacedesign to partner on an estimated $40 million project to add a parking garage, event space and outdoor sculpture garden adjacent to the museum. In addition to helping the Crocker Art Museum, the project has implications for the surrounding area.

The Crocker Park development project will include a parking garage, event space and outdoor sculpture garden. Photos courtesy Crocker Art Museum

“The riverfront has such potential to become a cultural and visitors’ center,” says Richard Rich, riverfront and railyards project manager for the City of Sacramento. “But to attract visitors to it, we need amenities. The Crocker is one of our best amenities. And to expand that and make it even better can only help bringing people to that section of town.”

Creating the Vision

Currently, Crocker Park is three acres of unimproved land at 2nd and O streets adjacent to Interstate 5. Prior to the construction of the freeway and the redevelopment of Sacramento’s west end in the mid-1900s, this land once had housing on it, says William Burg, a central city historian.

While much of the land will be preserved as a park, project stakeholders insist, there are some changes in store. In the request for quotes that Crocker issued to find an architect, Jones says, it specified adding 400 parking spaces. There will also be a ground-level performance and exhibition space that could seat at least 500 people, says Jay Schenirer, a Sacramento City Councilman and co-trustee for the museum.

“The idea of having something that opens up into the park that you can do evenings at I think would be a wonderful amenity for the city,” Schenirer says.

The Crocker Park development project will include a parking garage, event space and outdoor sculpture garden. Photos courtesy Crocker Art Museum

Alan Maskin, a principal for Olson Kundig, is also excited about the possibilities. “I’m intrigued for many reasons with what the Crocker’s going to do, but [particularly with] the idea that can kind of turn a museum inside-out,” Maskin says. “Sometimes, museums are like fortresses, where the activity and the life of them is buried so deeply.”

The outdoor space is also needed for the Crocker, which draws 275,000 visitors annually and ranks among the top 40 most-visited museums in the country. “We are at capacity for a lot of our programming,” Jones says. “We’re trying to create a space that will help us serve more people in the future.”

City leaders across the river are closely watching what goes on with this project. Katy Jacobson, economic development and housing director for the City of West Sacramento, says that adding amenities to the riverfront area of her city has helped reduce crime, and she sees the Crocker Park project as a potential lynchpin for the whole area.

“We want art on Capitol Mall,” Jacobson says. “We want art on our riverfront. We want art along the streetcar route. Essentially, what we’re trying to do is create art-infused paths between this Crocker sculpture garden and my side of the river and downtown Sacramento.”

The project could help transform the area on both sides of the river. “Our waterfront is going to look very different in 10 years,” Rich says. “So projects like the Crocker project are part of that natural growth.”

Still a Ways to Go

This project’s been a long time coming, and other nearby projects have languished as well, with Rich saying that plans for a pedestrian bridge between the R Street Corridor and the Bridge District in West Sacramento date to 2003.

It will take another couple years, at least, before the project moves beyond the planning stage for the new work at the Crocker. Jones says that Crocker hopes to break ground by Oct. 10, 2020 — the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Teel Family Pavilion, a 125,000-square-foot addition to the museum. Rich says that the project has no design or permits yet. “Right now, this is an idea that Crocker is pursuing,” Rich says.

Maskin says he just got back from a startup meeting with Jones and her team and that his firm will be working on the research phase for awhile. This includes asking lots of questions and going through a form-finding process.

Funding is somewhat uncertain. Jones says the $40 million projected cost represents a kind of “back-of-the-napkin number what we thought is reasonable.” She says the museum will likely need to do a capital campaign to raise funding.

Schenirer says he’s optimistic that both the public and private sector will come through on this project. “People step up to fund good ideas,” he says. “This is a good idea and this will really enhance the downtown area of the city and connect the Crocker to Capitol Mall, connect Capitol Mall to the arena and other pieces as we move forward of the kind of the renaissance that’s happening.”