Offsite Enhancement to Attract and Leverage Investment
County Fair Mall’s adjacency to an active regional rail line is a particularly exciting opportunity for the introduction of passenger rail service to the City of Woodland that should be pursued aggressively by the City. Passenger rail lines with multiple stations and frequent service reflect a regional transportation-asset commitment that can catalyze very significant private sector investment. By adding passenger rail service to this line, it will be possible to travel from Downtown Woodland and the redeveloped mall site to Downtown Davis, UC Davis, Sacramento, and San Jose and other cities to the south. The current noisy freight service eventually can be moved to a newly constructed line on the east side of town. A connection from the East Street line to the east-west rail line that is parallel to Main Street, once extended an additional couple of miles to the airport, would add convenient rail access to the airport by Woodland residents.
The strong national/international trend toward walkable, urban, mixed-use environments dovetails perfectly with rail transit—resulting in Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs)—and collectively, these trends are closely aligned with millennial lifestyle aspirations. Millennials prefer less auto dependence and low cost of travel, which rail travel between the above destinations will provide far better than taxi and ride-sharing solutions. Passenger rail transit will enhance the quality of life of the many Woodland residents that commute to jobs and classes at UC Davis and in Downtown Sacramento, plus improve regional access to the Yolo County Fairgrounds—and to Downtown Woodland and to the mall site, which will be a boon to both districts.
Property values within a 5-10-minute walk of passenger train stations usually increase. The top mixed-use developers greatly prize sites with rail transit access and tend to boost the level and quality of investment when an active train station is present or planned. Consideration should be given to relocating the City’s historic train station to a new location at the northwest corner of the mall property, perhaps with the addition of an adjacent parking structure, or across the street from this location on the west side of East Street, close to the tracks. A new structure can be built near the mall, moving the existing historic station closer to the tracks and the Downtown.
The vacant 40-acre parcel to the south of the mall presents an opportunity to do a coordinated project with the mall’s redevelopment. This would allow for a walkable mixed-use district that would be twice the size of the mall site alone, and it would allow for a wider variety of housing types, which would increase sales velocity (generally speaking, the more residential unit types on the market at one time, the faster the absorption rate will be). Additional civic and cultural uses such as a next-generation library and an arts venue (Yolo Arts is looking for space) could be contemplated on a larger site. Integrating the development of the two parcels also would allow for a strong pedestrian connection from the mall parcel to the Woodland Community & Senior Center and Woodland Sports Park.
Securing control of the property by optioning it with the intent to turn around and sell the property to the eventual developer is the preferred option if the City wishes to minimize the risk of a bad outcome and maximize the likelihood of the creation of a desirable community amenity to the maximum extent possible. But other options also can improve the chances of success. Revisiting the potential for passenger rail service along the East Street line will, if successful, attract greater investment to the site, elevate nearby property values, and will provide measurable quality of life benefits to Woodland residents and to visitors.