Westfield Downtown Mall: Not as Bleak as You Remember It

Sacramento’s downtown mall has struggled the last five or six years. Maybe the toughest blow came when Hard Rock Cafe closed and the giant plastic guitar came down. I still snuck over there yesterday for quick shopping for a birthday gift, because, well, it’s downtown and that’s convenient if you work downtown.

It’s actually not as bad as it used to be. Vacancies on the first floor are about five percent, and maybe 35 percent on the second floor. Still, an improvement. Foot traffic looks pretty good. And the cinema, Macys, and River City Brewing Company remain as anchors on the mall’s west side. The Doubleday bookstore has been gone for a few years, which sucks (bookstores are generally great places to shop for hard-to-shop-for people). But still there are signs of life sneaking back into the mall.

The cavernous 24 Hour gym is even undergoing an expansion (and hopefully renovation) that will take it to the second floor on the mall’s east entrance.

Back in February, a team of urban planners recommended restructuring the mall into an open mixed-use area for retail, housing and workspace. I really see the virtue in that. Right now, its frontage looks more like a fortress than a market, buttressed against growing national trends that favor outdoor malls or “lifestyle centers.” Open it up if Westfield wants to front the money.

Full disclosure, I sit on the board for Sacramento’s redevelopment agency, which has some jurisdiction with streetscape improvements and tenant attraction in the area. My comments shouldn’t be taken as representing any city officials other than yours truly.

In the meantime, a slow rebound in the mall’s current structure appears to be picking up steam. That funky exotic antique store is gone, where I almost bought a samurai sword once. But if trends continue, something better will come along.

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