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Roseville aims to create vibrant downtown

Private, nonprofit Roseville Community Development Corporation tasked with implementing revitalization goals
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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What is the Roseville Community Development Corporation?

Incorporated as a nonprofit 510(c)(3) under the tax code. Eligible to receive donations, gifts and bequests.

Can do mixed-use development, business recruitment and retention, commercial loans, etc.

Has a five-member board of community members appointed by City Council.

Five-person staff comprising of city employees and led by CEO John Sprague, an assistant city manager for Roseville.

Council sets long-term goals; board acts as separate entity from the city.

As sole member of RCDC, the city receives all assets should corporation dissolve.

Board currently consists of: Ed Benoit, Jim Gray, John Norman, Nick Alexander and Howard Rudd.

 

On a typical Saturday evening, you can find customers dining on ceviche and sipping cocktails, as band members of that night’s musical act prep the stage for their gig inside an island-themed restaurant on Vernon Street in downtown Roseville.

Usually, the rest of the street is quiet, besides the patrons who may be enjoying a live show inside the historic Tower or Roseville theaters. But city officials, developers and local business owners don’t expect the street to remain quiet much longer on Saturday nights.

In an era of strained government resources, the city of Roseville has managed to move forward on long-held plans to revitalize downtown and Old Town, largely through the efforts of the Roseville Community Development Corporation.

The idea for the private, nonprofit corporation was brought over by City Manager Ray Kerridge, hired in May 2010. In October of that year, the Roseville City Council approved the formation of the corporation to implement economic and revitalization goals. The council established specific objectives during the corporation’s first two years, including the launch of two projects downtown.

“That was the initial focus and I think we have far exceeded those goals,” said Assistant City Manager John Sprague, who acts as the corporation’s CEO.

The group has purchased properties on Vernon Street and has attracted at least one new tenant — though some residents question if the city should be in the business of buying properties and making loans. The corporation is looking at providing financing for small businesses, and recently launched a private-public partnership called Advantage Roseville.

“That grew out of discussions that had been going on for years,” Sprague said. “RCDC is the mechanism by which Advantage Roseville can function. It’s very exciting.”

Several local business owners have publicly commended the city for showing foresight in establishing the corporation and protecting investments in revitalization, as Gov. Jerry Brown made good on his promise to dissolve all of the state’s roughly 400 redevelopment agencies on Feb. 1, 2012.

The corporation’s biggest claim to fame so far has been its role in the September opening of Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill, rocker Sammy Hagar’s franchise restaurant and live music venue that occupies a building on Vernon Street that had been vacant since 2005.

But for all the corporation’s early accolades, many residents may not understand what exactly the entity does, while others question its actions. Resident Theresa McInnes thinks their work is a waste of taxpayer money. She has spent several months researching the group.

“I always look at the expenditures, whom are they dealing with, what are they dealing on?” McInnes said. “And if I don’t get the answers, I ask again.”

RCDC a ‘start-up, new idea’

With the implementation of Roseville’s revitalization strategy in 1999, the city has focused on returning downtown and Old Town into a civic core. Over the course of the next 13 years, the now-defunct Roseville Redevelopment Agency invested $80 million in public funds to revamp downtown, including streetscape and infrastructure improvements, construction of a parking structure and renovation of two theaters.

The city has plans for more revitalization: In August 2011, the council unanimously approved 13 projects for an estimated $37 million over three years. One of those, the town square, is expected to be finished this spring. Crews have also completed underground utility upgrades, allowing for more intense housing and commercial development.

Back in fall 2010, city officials began to worry about the redevelopment agency’s future — and the fate of related projects — and initiated the formation of the Roseville Community Development Corporation, reasoning that the group could protect the city’s substantial financial investment in revitalization.

“Whether redevelopment was good or bad, when (the agency dissolved) it removed a funding mechanism,” Sprague said. “So, we have to look at new ways to make that happen. It’s a start-up, it’s a new idea … we feel like we’re on the cutting edge and it shows Roseville is a community that’s innovative, willing to take calculated risks and understands (these) efforts are going to take some time to show how successful they can be.”

The city loaned the corporation $5 million to cover start-up costs, to be repaid by 2040. McInnes says that money is a lost cause.

“No one’s going to be around (then), people won’t ask questions … and that’s why they do it,” she said.

At the time of the corporation’s formation, the council consisted of Carol Garcia and Pauline Roccucci, who still serve; John Allard, who has been termed out of office; Jim Gray, who now sits on the corporation’s board; and then-mayor Gina Garbolino, who is currently earning $65 an hour working for the corporation.

After volunteering for 15 months, Garbolino signed on in March 2012 as a paid consultant to assist with business development over six months for $15,600. Her efforts involve connecting entrepreneurs with capital, outreach, working with banks for financing and other duties. In September, the board approved an additional one-year contract for an estimated $32,500.

Sprague credits Garbolino with playing a critical role in Advantage Roseville, which includes 21 founding members. Formed in August, this public-private partnership — overseen by the corporation — promotes economic development and markets Roseville as a desirable place to live and do business. The founding members, which include the Roseville Chamber of Commerce, pledged money and their expertise.

“With the downtown effort, we’ve never given up … We’ve always had a vision and to see it now coming to fruition is very, very exciting,” Garbolino said.

Buying up properties

As part of its efforts to attract new businesses downtown, the corporation is buying up a core group of properties on Vernon Street, using some of that $5 million loan from the city.

The group purchased the vacant building at 240 Vernon St. for $603,000 in August 2011. The following month, the corporation entered into a project development and management agreement with Barbieri Properties, LLC, of which local developer Stephen Pease is a partner.

Pease has been heavily involved with downtown improvement efforts for several years, taking part on various committees, such as the Economic Development Advisory Committee. He’s also active in the Chamber, serving on its political action committee.

“Redevelopment of any type is probably not going to happen downtown without the RCDC … there’s interest in downtown, but with the (current) real-estate and lending climate, redevelopment is little bit harder to do and credit is tighter,” Pease said.

The Roseville Community Development Corporation is completing exterior improvements on 240 Vernon St. and expanding the outdoor seating area at the site, and is in negotiations with a Sacramento-based restaurant interested in expanding into Roseville. Sprague hopes the eatery will be operational by summer.

The corporation purchased the property at 242-246 Vernon St. for $537,500 in September 2011. In October 2011, the corporation entered into an agreement for project development and management, again with Barbieri Properties. The building currently has tenants, and the corporation will conduct an exterior renovation.

But the property believed to be the major catalyst for the area is 238 Vernon St., the old JC Penney building that now houses Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill.

Roseville’s redevelopment agency had purchased the building in September 2005 for $1 million — loaned from the city — from Steve and Renee Nash, planning at that time to eventually resell the property to someone else. That someone else ended up being KMS Development — another Pease company — for $650,000 in 2008, resulting in a $350,000 loss.

During that 2005 meeting, then-Councilman Richard Roccucci criticized the purchase, arguing it was a waste of public funds with no guarantee the money would be recouped.

“My opposition is not to revitalization,” said Roccucci, who voted against the purchase. “My opposition is to the city trying to do all the revitalization and not letting the private sector do its part.”

In November 2011, the development corporation agreed to finance the improvement of 238 Vernon St. with a $1.5 million loan to Innova Restaurant Concepts LLC, which Pease formed with real-estate broker Jon Yip to run Sammy’s eatery — Hagar licenses his name to restaurants, which are then run by local operators.

Sprague said this is all part of the plan to attract the right tenant mix into downtown, an effort of the city, corporation and now the area’s new master developer. The goal: have entertainment, restaurants, specialty retail, office buildings, housing and a public gathering space, and attract people back to the area.