Stockton’s waterfront is a study in neglected possibilities. As if the city’s inner harbor, a gateway to 1,000 miles of waterways, is an afterthought and not the geographic asset that makes Stockton unique.
This surreal mindset is like living atop the Comstock Lode with planners who insist it is better to build a strip mall than a mine shaft. Still, there is progress.
City Hall is moving 300-400 workers into the Waterfront Towers; developers are invited to propose projects on three vacant waterfront-area parcels; Uncle Sam gave Stockton $600,000 to study cleaning up the waterfront and other brownfields; SMG, the city’s venue management company, is taking over the marina.
SMG held a focus group of 20 or so idea people to suggest how to make the waterfront more popular.
“We have our vision,” said Kendra Clark, SMG Stockton’s general manager. “But we also want to know what you guys have. What you’d like to see down here.”
Clark added that SMG will hire a competent marina manager. But their specialty is events.
“Our entire vision is just to make this whole waterfront a destination and bring people down here,” Clark said. “There’s so much more that can be done.”
SMG will install Wi-Fi around the marina. Gates restricting access to boats will be improved. Live-aboard residents will get keycards, visitors will receive passcodes. All to keep boats safe and the experience pleasant.
“And, yes, we are in discussion with the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) over a beer and wine license” for a market SMG is opening, Clark said.
Well and good. But how to attract visitors in droves? How to really put Stockton on the Delta map?
A boater defined the problem. Boaters tour Delta resorts, he said.
“The challenge you have is you’re a cul-de-sac of the Delta,” he said. “We really have to have enough (going on) to lure you past a lot of nothing to get here.”
Wes Rhea of Visit Stockton differed.
“I know we want to bring the world on a boat in here, but … you’ve got to get Stocktonians to believe in this marina. They’re going to be your biggest advocates.”
Good luck. The south bank, being partly vacant and near the shelter and dining hall, is homeless camp central.
Keeping it real, Rhea said the interpretive plaques along the promenade are faded and graffitied. The trash cans are trashed or missing altogether. To which I would add, copper thieves stripped wire from streetlamps. Making the waterfront eerily dark at night.
Yet the city has hired 24/7 security, and SMG can boast of at least one success. Piggybacking on the Lighted Boat Parade, SMG threw a party on the road that circles the arena.
They had Christmas lights, bounce houses, beer, wine and hot chocolate, and Santa Claus. Inside they had face painting, ice skating and dinner on the upper floor with a boat parade view. The event sold out. People lined the fences as boats twinkled past.
SMG is in talks with the Waterfront Warehouse to stage concerts at its outdoor amphitheater, Clark said. SMG also is eyeing nearby Morelli Park.
Someone said Morelli Park could be a place for pop-up events. I kept my mouth shut. Have you visited Morelli Park lately?
The south-bank boat ramp and parklet is lined with a major homeless encampment. People sleep in tents, in cars, on the ground. Dogs race up and snarl.
Moving right along, a young urbanist said the waterfront should be connected to downtown through clear wayfinding. A boater said signs touting the waterfront should be erected as far as five miles out.
Bill Wells of the Delta Chambers said when the waterfront is ready SMG should make presentations to the Chamber and to the Pacific Interclub Yachting Association. Get the word out to Bay Area yacht clubs.
Others talked about kayak rentals, canoes, paddleboats, patio boats and family packages that included a Ports or Kings game. Wine strolls. Car and boat shows. Human hamster balls.
Warming up, someone suggested big, signature events such as Friday night laser light shows. How about draping a four-story movie screen off the new City Hall and showing movies? Think big, iconic events unique to Stockton’s waterfront.
After the focus group, I invited Mayor Michael Tubbs to add his two cents.
“Ideally, I would love to see our waterfront develop into something similar to the San Antonio Riverwalk,” he said. Tubbs spent a week last year at the Mayor’s Institute on Design, studying waterfront revival.
The consensus of the focus group was the waterfront could become a successful fun spot and tourist stop if SMG could establish the sort of Friday Night Live vibe popular at Lincoln Center.
But nothing SMG stages will matter if the waterfront remains marred by blight, thieves and people arguing with their hallucinations.
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or email@example.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.