In any self-respecting city, a downtown waterfront such as Stockton’s would boast housing, restaurants, shops, museums, artworks, events and waterborne recreation.
And things are happening on the waterfront — no one thing equal to its potential, but all noteworthy — such as negotiation for housing, major construction on the Waterfront Towers and the nearly complete restoration of the U.S.S. Lucid.
“We think we can become an iconic part of the downtown waterfront,” said David Rajkovich, president of the Stockton Maritime Museum, which the Lucid will be.
The U.S.S. Lucid MSO-458 is a 1950s/Vietnam-era minesweeper, 173 feet long, 600 tons, made of wood to trick magnetic mines. It’s been under restoration for 10 years at a berth by Louis Park. Restoration is 80% complete. Backers plan to move the ship downtown to a vacant spot on the south bank near Weber Point and open it as a museum of Stockton’s shipbuilding and naval history.
“So when we get downtown, it’ll make quite a statement,” Rajkovich said. “We’ll be the biggest craft down there.”
After removing the mast and squeezing the Lucid under the I-5 bridge at low tide, Rajkovich plans to hitch the ship to pylons 15 feet out in the water with access through a special building and catwalk.
The museum ship will be visible to the 200,000 vehicles that pass over the channel every day on I-5.
“With proper signage on the highway and downtown, we can get people to stop and buy a tank of gas and walk around,” Rajkovich said.
City Manager Harry Black is on board, so to speak.
“We think that it’s a great project,” Black said. “We look forward to it opening. We believe that it will be another interesting attraction for downtown and the waterfront.”
Black ticked off the setbacks to waterfront revival: the 2008 Great Recession, Stockton’s ensuing bankruptcy and the Covid-19 pandemic. To which I would add — before Black’s tenure — the city’s historic and inexplicable indifference to the geographic asset that could make it special.
But, “We’re in a better place today,” Black said, rezoning the waterfront to make it more conducive to development, slashing permit red tape by nearly 40% and securing state funds to clean up the 8.78 acres of city land west of the Waterfront Towers.
City negotiations with a developer to build 575 housing units, park and “civic space,” as well as retail on that land passed a key deadline without a deal. But the parties are still talking, Black said.
“That site will be developed,” Black said. “There is no doubt that it is a prime location.”
Though not a prime market, said John Beckman, CEO of the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley.
“It’s the weaker economy,” Beckman said. “The issue really is the incomes of Stocktonians compared to the incomes of people in Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy. They make more money there and they can afford to pay more for a house.”
The state clean-up money for the south-bank land makes the site more attractive to builders.
· Major construction transforming the Twin Towers into the new City Hall will bring hundreds of workers to the waterfront, boosting the Waterfront Warehouse and making the surrounding area safer. The move is expected by Fall of 2023.
· Visit Stockton is moving from the B&M Building in Janet Leigh Plaza to the Sperry Flour Company’s 1888 office, a historic gem that somehow survived all these years at 146 W. Weber Ave.
· The city is opening the Stockton Community Kitchen in nearly 12,000 square feet of never-used retail space on the ground floor of the ballpark/arena parking garage. The “micro kitchens” will both serve food and train food entrepreneurs.
· The departure of the Stockton Heat opened the arena’s calendar to more entertainment dates. Comedian Jo Koy plays Friday. Disney on Ice has four dates in February. Journey and Toto play April 18. I’m tempted to say ho hum. C’mon, venue management, book hot acts.
Later today I’ll post on Instagram new and historic photos of the Lucid and her sister ships, some of which were built in Stockton, as well as a minesweeper crewman’s memories.
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com.