Raising The Roof
By Jon Lewis
The removal of the downtown redding mall's roof (part 2)
Story: Jon Lewis
Mary Stegall moved to Redding in 1992 and quickly realized there was a problem with the downtown mall: it was on its death bed and threatening to take the rest of downtown with it.
“The heart of the city was being ignored,” says Stegall, who made revitalizing downtown a central issue in her successful Redding City Council campaign in 2000. “It was apparent the mall was dying, but also that it’s a central piece of downtown,” adds Stegall, who was re-elected in 2006 and now serves as Redding’s mayor.
“It was like watching somebody on life support,” says Doni Greenberg, a former newspaper columnist who had long complained that the mall had become an obsolete and oppressive weight that had squeezed the life out of downtown Redding.
John Truitt, executive director of Viva Downtown, likens the mall to “the world’s largest museum of house plants” and like Stegall, he complains that the mall is not much more than a bunch of walls that close off and lock up three blocks in the downtown core.
Others shared those concerns, including some downtown business and property owners who began to complain in the mid-1990s that taxpayer money intended for the redevelopment of the downtown area was being spent in other parts of town.
Larry Morgon, Redding’s redevelopment manager and the city’s point man for bringing downtown back to life, says then-city manager Mike Warren heard those complaints and asked the interested parties to come up with some options for Redding’s Redevelopment Agency to consider.
Business owners got together with engineers and architects, including longtime downtown advocate James Theimer, and met over several months at Chocolat de Nanette’s to come up with a downtown plan. Other stakeholders attended the meetings “and started getting their two cents in,” Morgon says, and ultimately a downtown plan was presented to the council.
The council, which doubles as the redevelopment agency, accepted the report and promptly sat on it. However, the seeds had been sown – both for the mall’s reincarnation and the establishment of the Downtown Business Improvement District and Viva Downtown, a nonprofit group that created the popular summertime MarketFest event.
Eventually, the mall claimed a higher spot on the city’s priority list and money was made available for Mark Brodeur and the Urban Design Studio to produce the Downtown Specific Plan, which was adopted in 2001.
The upshot of the report: “You can’t talk about downtown without talking about the mall, and you have to take the roof off or put the streets back through,” Morgon says. The plan also suggested open space, a park and a theater where Rite Aid once stood.
Rite Aid, conveniently enough, had already decided to relocate to the corner of Eureka Way and Court Street and its old store was offered to the city at an attractive price. Morgon says the city didn’t want to take on the building itself, but was interested in supporting a partner.
Looking for a spot to build a satellite campus and flush with Proposition 1A funds, Shasta College arrived on the scene in 2003 as a perfect partner. The college had been considering some property adjacent to Sequoia Middle School, but Stegall put Shasta College President Gary Lewis in touch with the Rite Aid people and a deal was struck. “I wasn’t in on all the negotiations, but it worked,” Stegall says.
Indeed it did. The Rite Aid building was demolished, the northwest corner of the mall’s roof was removed and the spectacular, $18 million Shasta College Health Sciences and University Center was established.
With the northernmost corner of the roof gone, fresh air flowed in, and with it came new businesses and a new interest in downtown Redding. Next up is the rest of the roof, the rotted and leaky lid that is slated to come down by year’s end at a cost of $1.7 million.
Removing the roof means the addition of “connectivity,” the people-friendly notion that one will be able to take a nighttime stroll from the college center to the Cascade Theatre without having to circumnavigate a walled-off mausoleum.
“Everybody is happy the roof is coming off,” says Michelle Goedert, the facilities manager of the Midtown Mall Benefit Corp., the organization representing downtown mall property owners. “It will be nice not to have 60 rain barrels out when it rains.”
“It just feels like finally, one piece at a time, Redding is getting its downtown back,” says Greenberg. “I’m really excited about it. Downtown was a gathering place for people and I hope that’s what it becomes again.” •
Editor’s note: The possibilities presented by the ‘new’ mall and its role in defining downtown Redding in the 21st century will be examined in the September issue of Enjoy.