City officials consider capital improvement plan

In a proposal city officials say will produce long-planned projects and make up for previously deferred upgrades, the Riverside City Council is set to vote this week on the initial plans for a $780 million citywide proposal for municipal facilities and infrastructure.

Called the “Riverside Renaissance Initiative,” the spending plan outlines funding for new parks, libraries, sports fields and senior centers; refurbishment of existing parks and facilities; traffic improvements, including signal synchronization and railroad grade separations at key intersections; new sidewalks, parkways, trails and medians; citywide beautification projects, including the downtown pedestrian mall; public safety improvements, including a new police/fire command center; and upgrades to electrical, water and sewer systems.

Also planned are essential cultural upgrades, including a retrofitted Metropolitan Museum, expanded Convention Center, rehabilitated Municipal Auditorium and a completely refurbished Fox Theater — which is probably the most forward-looking aspect of the plan. Not only will it restore one of the city’s historical gems, it will finally give Riverside a first-class performance arts facility — a venue that was in the original plans for Raincross Square Convention Center over 35 years ago (see: 1970 – A, 1970 – B, 1971 – A, and 1972 – A).

To fund the plan, the city has split it into two, nearly-equal parts:

One is a $384 million spending plan to pay for public works projects that include traffic-signal synchronization; major upgrades to the city’s electric, water and sewer systems; design work for five underpasses or overpasses at railroad crossings; and widening Van Buren Boulevard from Garfield to Jackson streets…

…The second part is a $397 million plan to help the city build the sidewalks, parks and park improvements, railroad crossing under- and overpasses and other projects.

The Press-Enterprise

Though neither the funding nor the full project list has yet to be finalized — and it’s likely some changes will occur as the plan evolves — the city says funding is already in place for nearly half of the plan. Such funding involves several different sources and mechanisms, including federal, state and county funds, plus the sale of some surplus properties. Property owners will also be tapped to help with what City Manager Brad Hudson says will be future upkeep. He says voters will be asked to create a “maintenance district” program, resulting in a $20 – $30 annual parcel tax. Considering the number and scope of projects involved, we hope voters see this as being a more than reasonable amount.

All in all, we like the plan, both for its projects (Fox Theater, libraries, etc.) and scope (transportation, public safety, recreation, cultural, etc.). And we love its timeframe. — 5 years as opposed to the typical 20 or 30. However, for such an ambitious, forward-looking plan, we see at least one major element missing — a large, multipurpose community events/sports arena.

With nearly 4 million residents in the two-county metropolitan area — and no existing events/sports arena — the region is long-overdue for a major multipurpose venue. Moreover, if cities the size of Des Moines, Iowa (2005 – *city pop. 194,000 / **metro pop. 522,000), Spokane, Washington (196,000 / 440,000) and Omaha, Nebraska (414,000 / 813,000) have recently built — and support — large, multipurpose arenas, then indeed, so too can Inland Southern California’s largest city — Riverside (290,000 / 3.8 million).

Two great examples for Riverside to follow are recently-built arenas located in similarly-sized California cities — Bakersfield (295,000 / 756,000) and Stockton (286,000 / 664,000). Both are modest 10,000 seat, multipurpose arenas. And just as important, neither broke the bank — a reported $38 million in Bakersfield (1998) and $68 million in Stockton (2005). Thus, such an arena is indeed within financial reach for Riverside, particularly when considering the natural financing/operating partnership available with UC Riverside.

Thus, we feel in order for this to be a true long-term plan — one which not only addresses vital municipal facilities and infrastructure, but cultural facilities as well — then Riverside needs to also address the lack of a regional events/sports arena within Inland Southern California. Just as city officials are saying now is the time for this “renaissance” plan, we too say now is the time to finally step up and become a major-league city/region and build a major-league events facility.

Regardless of the arena issue, we fully support the ideas behind this plan and urge residents and property owners alike to voice their support as well. Indeed, Riverside needs such a plan if it wishes to stay ahead of the curve and atop its game as Inland Southern California’s largest city.


*Census Bureau – Population Finder
**Census Bureau – 2005 Metropolitan estimates (Table 1)

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