An art park is still set to be developed on land adjacent to Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. (Photos by Graham Womack)

Status Check: New Plans for an Old Park

Crocker Art Museum, city revive dormant talks to transform Crocker Park

Back Web Only Jan 19, 2022 By Graham Womack

When the COVID-19 pandemic descended on America, it meant the halting of many plans. Among them: An approximately $40 million art park and adjacent parking garage by Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento that Comstock’s looked at in September 2018. Nearly two years into the pandemic, this project has new life, albeit with a shift.

City officials and Lial Jones, the Mort and Marcy Friedman director and CEO of Crocker Art Museum, confirmed that talks have been revived for the project since October. The sides are working toward a memorandum of understanding and early-stage designs, with the possibility that ground could break this year. “The motivation has always been to create a great, new civic amenity for Sacramento,” Jones says.

The parking garage that was set to be developed by Crocker Art Museum as part of the art park project is on hold.

What’s planned is fairly similar to what was on-tap before the pandemic, with San Francisco-based firm Surfacedesign working on designs that could transform Crocker Park into an art park dotted with sculptures. The development will include a “flex space” for art-focused events and programs, “but not necessarily a building structure for that purpose,” says Kat Haro, director of marketing and communications for Crocker Art Museum. 

The difference from 2018: Plans are off, at least for now, to create a city parking garage with the help of Seattle-based Olson Kundig. “Because of the pandemic and decimation of parking revenues, that is on hold,” Jones says. “We don’t know when that will be able to come forward again.”

Dustin Hollingsworth, a project manager for the city, says that conversations shifted “when we realized there wasn’t going to be city funding,” though he and others with the city continue to work on the project. It’s uncertain if the city will look to make a larger financial contribution to the project in the future.

“Right now, we’re evaluating all of that,” Hollingsworth says. “It’s really early for anybody to come in and say, ‘The city’s not doing anything’ because we are trying to identify ways that we might be able to, even if it’s not a direct financial contribution, we may be able to redirect funds to it.”

The city also prioritized much of the $89 million it received in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding in 2020 toward the arts, with the Crocker receiving $250,000, according to the Sacramento Business Journal. That money was vitally needed for the Crocker, which was closed for 11 months due to the pandemic and continues to operate with reduced hours and programming. “Basically, without CARES money, the arts in Sacramento would be decimated,” Jones says.

Development plans for the art park include a “flex space” for art-focused events and programs.

Amid this backdrop, Jones and others are working on a project that could boost Crocker’s offerings long-term, with Jones ultimately envisioning “an 18-hour-a-day amenity that is greatly used by the museum visitors and the public.” Jones anticipates the project being completed in 2024 and is hopeful groundbreaking can start this year, though there are some hurdles to clear.

“Part of the timing of when we can break ground will be when that MOU is completed and the construction drawings are completed and permitting is done,” Jones says. “If the MOU were done today, the other work would take about nine months. It really is dependent on the MOU process right now.”

Jones says there’s been no talk of when the memorandum could go to city council for approval. Hard budget figures for the revived project aren’t available, though Jones says the $40 million project cost for the park doesn’t include the art for it. A fundraising campaign, Crocker Next, also meant to help the museum’s endowment and address parking and storage issues, is ongoing.

“At this point, they’re pretty pictures and they make sense. … It has the potential to be a really good project.” 

Dustin Hollingsworth, project manager, City of Sacramento 

Design work is also too early-stage to share publicly. “At this point, they’re pretty pictures and they make sense … but nothing formal has been (reviewed) as far as hard feasibility,” Hollingsworth says. He’s hopeful, though, telling Comstock’s, “It has the potential to be a really good project.”

It could also tie into ongoing efforts by the city to improve the waterfront along the Sacramento River through Old Sacramento and up toward Discovery Park. Jones notes as well that a parcel known as Lot X between Capitol Mall and N streets is slated to be developed.

“This whole neighborhood is changing,” Jones says. “And this park is going to be a major part of that.”

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