Graswich Unleashed: New Citizen in Sacramento

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At The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento, splendor lives in the details. Lamp shades display renditions of the California Constitution. Drawer handles depict political fists voting up or down. Nothing about The Citizen is transferable. Everything reflects 10th and J streets, circa 1925. The place belongs to Sacramento.

All of which presents opportunity and risk. The Citizen, which opened in time for the holidays, represents a grand leap forward by pulling us backward. Sacra-mento has nothing to match this boutique hotel, yet The Citizen will struggle unless locals embrace a street corner they’ve been trying to forget for 40 years.

Within two blocks of The Citizen’s front door, guests can enjoy a cabaret theater and nightclub. Nearby are industrial lofts, a dinner house featuring oysters and duck, a seafood bistro and a cafe with arguably the best corned beef in California.

And within those same blocks, Citizen guests can find a check-cashing operation, a pawn shop, a liquor store, boarded up storefronts and a city park where men sleep on concrete. The Citizen bears witness to a classic urban stew, simmered to messy perfection.

The people who developed The Citizen Hotel—who nurtured new life from a dilapidated building and discovered Jazz Age marble and latticework, who carved 198 rooms from warrens designed for insurance executives when Calvin Coolidge was president—these people are not necessarily visionaries. What they see in The Citizen is profit and a chance to get it right.

“When you look from the balcony of the Governor’s Suite on the 14th floor, you can see there’s no inventory of buildings in Sacramento that can become traditional boutique hotels,” Kipp Blewett, a Citizen Hotel development partner, told me. We looked into doing a hotel at the Elks Temple, but it has space for about 55 rooms, which isn’t enough. So this is it.”

The Citizen’s singularity should guarantee success. But the hotel—expensive to retrofit, costly to run—is like most other projects in downtown Sacramento, from the Sheraton Grand to the IMAX Theatre. They demand public money or they don’t get built.

Some people hate the idea of taxpayers subsidizing business. But here’s another approach: The Citizen and its rejuvenated neighbors represent our investment in Sacramento. Your money’s spent. Nurture your investment. I’ll see you at The Citizen, on the corner we own: 10th and J.

R.E. Graswich co-hosts the afternoon news weekdays with Kitty O’Neal on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports nightly for CBS 13 news.