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Developer Todd Chapman’s company is building Downtown Commons, the gathering place atop the ghost of Downtown Plaza.
TODD CHAPMAN SAYS IT’S NO COINCIDENCE that the acronym “DOCO”—for the new Downtown Commons public square in which the Golden 1 arena perches majestically and is scheduled for a spring 2017 official opening—evokes other iconic metropolitan areas. Think New York City’s lower Manhattan SoHo district (for South of Houston Street) or San Francisco’s rapidly emerging SoMa district (for South of Market Street).
Chapman is the president and chief executive officer of JMA Ventures. His company is building DOCO on the 14-acre property it owns, which once housed the hapless Downtown Plaza. “We came on board early,” he says. “We bought the property at the tail end of the recession and even though it came with a lot of risks, we also saw a tremendous amount of opportunity to help lead the renaissance of downtown Sacramento.”
Before knowing the arena was a sure thing, Chapman says, his company commissioned a study of market conditions that concluded downtown Sacramento would be the best site for an entertainment/sports complex. At the time, the options being bandied about were to rebuild the North Natomas facility known, sequentially, as Arco Arena, Power Balance Pavilion and finally, Sleep Train Arena; to use its construction to ignite development in the Railyards property; and to make the boldest move of all, plunking it in the center of downtown a few blocks from the State Capitol.
Not that JMA Ventures, founded in 1986, has ever been averse to making bold moves. Among its signature developments are Fairmont Heritage Place, a luxury hotel in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square; the views-to-die-for Epic Steak restaurant, also in San Francisco; Homewood Mountain Resort on Lake Tahoe’s west shore; and the posh Hyatt Regency in La Jolla.
"It's definitely not a mall."
BUILDING “A NEW CITY CENTER”
But DOCO is a different kind of bold. “Building, in essence, a new city center is one of the most complex undertakings our company has done,” Chapman says. “What we’re trying to do here is evoke a feeling—to create a new neighborhood that feels like it’s been here forever. We hoped that if we did our job right, the other neighborhoods nearby would feel just as special, just as connected.”
DOCO, he says, is being built as “an integrated environment in the sense that it’ll create an organic flow from here to the art galleries, theaters, restaurants and, naturally, Golden 1 Center.” He says the vision for DOCO is to be a gathering place—a public square and a destination for shopping, fashion, dining and entertainment. Outdoor concerts and farm-to-fork markets are also expected to be part of the mix. “It’s definitely not a mall,” he says firmly but good-naturedly.
DOCO’s amenities will include a $200 million, 250-room Kimpton Hotel, with two levels of retail and luxury condominiums. It will feature concept restaurants such as Punch Bowl Social (see sidebar), an almost 23,000-square-foot entertainment venue with eight bowling lanes, billiards, board games, table tennis and karaoke rooms; Sauced BBQ and Spirits, a 9,100-square-foot room featuring Southern cooking and what the Sacramento Business Journal playfully calls “an extensive whiskey list;” and State Fare Kitchen and Bar, run by the Houston-based Cherry Pie Hospitality, and which will focus on California cuisine with locally sourced ingredients.
DOCO will also have a nine-screen movie theater, including a giant, digital Cinemark XD screen. “Everything here will be experiential,” Chapman says.
SACRAMENTO’S GREAT OUTDOOR CULTURE
Want some more fun facts? The first phase of DOCO—it’s been entitled for much more— includes more than 715,000 square feet of development, more than 300,000 square feet of retail, 128,000 square feet of office, as well as the aforementioned Kimpton Hotel with its 45 residential units.
Chapman says he hopes DOCO will capture and make the most of the “great outdoor culture” of Sacramento. “My wife was raised in the Central Valley,” he says, “and that helped me understand the area. If you’re from here, you may have no idea of how friendly people are in Sacramento. I want DOCO to embrace that mindset. I want it to be transformative, on the one hand, but also affirmative of what this region is.”
Chapman is 44 years old. After earning his juris doctorate degree from Santa Clara University, he was an attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. For more than six years, he served as the principal outside counsel to JMA Ventures before joining the company and becoming its top officer. He and his wife, Erika, a native of Stockton, have three children ranging in age from 8 to 12.
“Our company has an affinity for the communities we build in,” Chapman says. Because he and his family live in Marin, they have “a feeling for the Bay Area, as well, which helped when JMA developed our properties there.” As a longtime athlete, he was also familiar with Tahoe from years of skiing.
CAPTAINING THE TEAM(S)
Because his website biography mentions the fact that Chapman is “passionate about sports and athletics” and that he “captained the rugby team during his time at Boston College” (from which he obtained his bachelor’s degree), he’s asked if his love of sports dovetailed with his work on helping to keep the Kings in downtown Sacramento. The question makes him laugh for a few seconds. Then he says, “Oh, absolutely. I don’t give it that much thought but sports, and team sports in particular, have always been meaningful both for me and for Erika (she’s a soccer player). I had a grandfather who played professional hockey. And I was always fascinated by the discipline and leadership skills you can learn from sports.” He says that the experience of having been the captain of his college rugby team—and now, the captain of his development team—“helps me motivate people. And it helps the team motivate me. This is a very intense industry. You always have to know your team has your back and vice versa.”
Chapman thinks that loyalty extends to Kings fans, especially the ones “who got themselves to New York City as we were completing the deal to keep the Kings in Sacramento. The roar that went up when we came out of our conference and everyone knew we’d won was pretty amazing. When you think of it, all of this came together very quickly, and there were so many people behind the scenes who’ll never receive the proper credit for the effort.” He does, however, mention Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, whose determination kept the project on track, as well as City Manager John Shirey and his staff, “who responded so quickly and thoroughly to everything. This project has had a lot of moving pieces and not much time. But it’s going to happen.”
As the interview winds up, Chapman is asked if he gets emotional about projects once they’re completed or is the professional attitude more one of Mission Accomplished, What’s Next?
He gets quiet for a moment. Then he smiles. “Usually, when we finish a job, we’re very proud or happy about it,” he says. “But I expect that the first time we open Golden 1 Center and see DOCO reaching completion, I’m going to be pretty moved.”
What’s at DOCO
More to be determined
• 250-room Kimpton Hotel—The Sawyer
• Estelle’s Patisserie
• Golden 1 Credit Union branch
• Popbar Hand-Crafted Gelato on a Stick
• Punch Bowl Social
• Sauced BBQ and Spirits
• State Fare Kitchen and Bar
• VSP storefront
Punch Bowl Social
It’s one of the most anticipated restaurants coming to Downtown Commons—and to the outside world, one of the most mysterious.
Punch Bowl Social is a 25,000-square-foot eatery and, for want of a better term, multipurpose rec room.
Its locally sourced “scratch” kitchen—as in, “Everything is made from”—features such comfort foods as chicken and waffles, as well as slightly more experimental dishes like cauliflower nachos. It also has eight bowling lanes, private karaoke rooms, board games (such as Trivial Pursuit, checkers and chess), a 1980s arcade (for those of us who miss the pulse-racing excitement of playing Pac-Man) and—why not?—shuffleboard, table tennis, billiards and a dart lounge.
The founder and chief executive officer of Punch Bowl Social, Robert Thompson, jokes that he expects to have the place open “many, many hours of the day and night”—in fact, for lunch, happy hour, dinner and late-night snacks. Weekend brunch will also be on the menu.
And about that menu: “We take fairly ubiquitous comfort foods and elevate them,” Thompson says. For example, there’s the restaurant menu’s description of its vegetarian mac ’n’ cheese: “shells, mascarpone fondue, peas, kale, foraged mushrooms, bread crumbs.” This isn’t your mom’s mac ’n’ cheese. Or even Kraft’s.
Thompson, 45, has been a restaurateur since 1997 but came up with the Punch Bowl Social idea just three years ago. “I’m more of a concept guy,” he says. “I get heavily into the design side.” Those designs can include, all under one roof, “industrial, mid-century modern, mountain lodge and what I call Victorian dirty modern. We like to say that Punch Bowl Social is where Paul Bunyan meets Don Draper.” Oh.
He’s a playful man with a serious mission. “Every place I open a restaurant, the aim is to reduce our carbon footprint and keep the money flowing into the local economy,” Thompson says.
He currently has restaurants—some under different names and with different overarching concepts, such as Buffalo Billiards and the Havana Dinner Lounge—in, among other cities, Portland, Denver, Austin, Detroit, Cleveland and Indianapolis. “Oh, yeah, and Brooklyn,” he adds. “But that’s not really a city.”
Hailing from Mississippi—“where all the great restaurateurs come from,” he says and laughs—Thompson says he’s “quite charged up” about opening his place in DOCO. “If you’re in Sacramento, it may be difficult to realize that the city is on everyone else’s radar now,” he says.