By Rhashad R. Pittman
Downtown Stockton is showing signs of a resurgence. Traces of economic vitality can be found throughout the downtown area, from a string of new restaurants that have recently opened up, to the large crowds flocking to events, and even in the city’s plan to provide hundreds of housing units in the area over the next few years.
Although downtown Stockton is not quite bustling to the likes of larger cities such as San Francisco or San Diego, it’s making significant strides in that direction. The payoff for doing so could be felt around the city: more affordable housing for local residents, more tax revenue for the city, more small businesses, and jobs, and simply more options for food and entertainment.
Leading the effort for a downtown resurgence is the Downtown Stockton Alliance (DSA) and its leader Cindi Fargo. The DSA was formed in 1996 as a public/private partnership to improve downtown’s appearance, increase safety, attract more businesses, and increase the number of downtown residents.
“An urban center like ours is really the heart of the city and always has been,” Fargo said. “And sometimes you have to revitalize it by breathing life into it.”
Since Fargo has come on board nearly three years ago, the DSA has helped support numerous events, including the Mexican Independence Day Celebration last month, and led promotional activities on behalf of local restaurants to raise the profile of downtown and encourage people to visit. The organization also works with area organizations to open the way for new housing developments in the downtown area.
In November 2014, Fargo became the CEO of the Downtown Stockton Alliance, bringing 25 years of experience with her. Throughout her career, she has worked in four cities in business improvement and economic revitalization, including downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp district.
In the last year and a half, seven restaurants and bars have relocated or opened up in downtown Stockton with more businesses on the way. An increasing number of people who live outside of the area are making their way to downtown events for bike rides, festivals, and art gatherings.
DSA has also teamed up with a Bay Area nonprofit organization to offer entrepreneurship classes to encourage and support local residents who want to open up a brick and mortar business. Thirty-nine residents have already signed up or completed the program.
“It’s a real signal that we’re being successful,” Fargo said.
To increase housing options and the number of affordable housing units, Stockton’s city leaders approved the construction of a number of developments with the goal of providing 1,400 housing units in the next few years, including a project for veterans by Visionary Home Builders.
“Housing really is the future of downtown,” Fargo said. “The retail (businesses) will come once you have people living in the area.”
City officials hope the additional housing units may help curb the homelessness that plagues the city. Homelessness is the region’s biggest challenge, Fargo said, with an estimated 750 transients. One of the key causes is the lack of investment in social services to provide assistance for those struggling to find housing.
It’s a common issue in downtowns across the country, Fargo noted.
“There’s literally no place for people to go,” she said. “So they spend a lot of time downtown.”
To help address the issue, San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors assembled a regional taskforce involving city, county, police, health and community leaders to find solutions.
In the meantime, the DSA continues to be optimistic about the future of downtown Stockton.
The recent activity provides a glimpse of what downtown could be if the DSA fulfills its ultimate mission, which is to complete an entire economic revitalization of the city’s urban core.
“Our goal is to get the entire community of Stockton and beyond to come to downtown,” Fargo said.