Railyards Project, Part One

The people involved in the project are always central to its success or not. Here is a good look at the partnership…and the challenge.

Stan & Heather’s Excellent Adventure
The deal is a doozy, the city is in deep, Thomas Enterprises’ head man preaches, and the naysayers say déjà vu …
By Ted Johnson

FIRST THERE’S THE SITE ITSELF: 240 mostly empty acres of former Union Pacific railyard, just north of downtown. A few moody brick-and-wood derelict buildings are all that is left of what was for many years the largest industrial site west of the steel mills in Pittsburg. It is now one of the largest pieces of undeveloped urban land in the nation.

Then there’s the mayor — 5 feet of energy, determination and grit. Heather Fargo, 54, contracted multiple sclerosis in 1997, and the first thing doctors tell those afflicted with the debilitating disease is to avoid high-stress situations. A decade later, MS has given her a distinct limp, and the hand-tooled cane is always close.

On the other hand, there’s the fit and muscled developer who is nearly as broad as he is tall. Along with shoulders big enough to carry a Kenworth and enough Southern charm to sweeten a chain of bakeries, Stan Thomas has the determination of an overachieving, contact-loving fullback who also happens to be captain of the team. He’s rich and busy and — rarest of all in the bottom-line world of major property development — reportedly loved by employees and revered by colleagues and clients of his company, Thomas Enterprises.

Partners in Grime

Mayor Heather Fargo and Georgia-based developer Stan Thomas, surprisingly coy about his age beyond “early fifties”, the CEO and chairman of Thomas Enterprises, have become partners in one of the country’s more daunting redevelopments, the Railyards just north of the Sacramento Valley Rail Station at 5th and I streets. Thomas estimates the deal cost him more than $40 million in predevelopment fees alone, a reasonable ante for a project expected to cost at least $5 billion and take up to 20 years to develop. But Thomas still doesn’t have the entitlements from the city, which would give him the right to develop. That issue will be voted on by the city council this autumn.

The Heather and Stan show will dominate local politics for the near future, and their success could have as much impact on how the city of Sacramento takes shape in the first half of the 21st century as the Gold Rush did in the 19th. In the view of those who have been involved in city politics for some time, this tandem is also attempting to transform the most moribund, difficult plot of land this side of a Superfund site.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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