Special K

After decades of blight, one of Sacramento’s most critical blocks—linking the Golden 1 Center to the rest of K Street—is about to become an instant neighborhood, bursting into existence with hundreds of new residents and the city’s most concentrated collection of local retailers and restaurateurs. Here’s how a small group of visionary developers may have created the blueprint for how to design, build and curate the downtown of our dreams.

Rendering courtesy of Kuchman Architects PC

Click. Bay Miry snapped the shutter on his iPhone and captured a moment that signaled a turning point for his hometown. It was the evening of Oct. 5, 2016. The young developer was approaching the corner of 7th and K along with a tide of exultant concertgoers spilling into the street from the Golden 1 Center, where Paul McCartney had just christened the new $557 million venue with back-to-back sold-out concerts, but Miry wasn’t marveling at the moment itself, not exactly: He was squinting a little, peering into the near future, with a nod to the past. Once upon a time, K Street bustled day and night, with moms taking daughters to buy prom gowns at department stores, suited lobbyists drinking gin in swanky bars and soldiers escorting dames to movie palaces to see Tracy and Hepburn double features. But then, after the mid-century postwar flight to the suburbs, K Street, along with many a downtown strip like it in the country, took a sharp turn downward. The string of small buildings between 7th and 8th was one of the worst hit, a block where for decades dirty doorways, boarded up storefronts and broken façades stared into the void with a gap-toothed grimace. But when Miry stopped and took his snapshot, he knew something that no one else in the crowd did that night: that the block was already stirring to life beneath the surface. That’s because he and his partners were already quietly setting about an ambitious restoration project that would soon change the face of K Street. Oz, you see, was about to turn Technicolor, and on that particular evening, Bay Miry may have been the only one on the block who could visualize it.

So, like any self-respecting thirtysomething, Miry raised his phone and captured the moment for Instagram. “It was beautiful seeing all the people & energy flowing along K St. on a weeknight,” he wrote.

Nearly two years later, that fleeting vision of a thriving cityscape is about to become a reality. About 100 new residents have moved in and more than a dozen predominantly local businesses will open their doors over the next six months or so, becoming players in one of Sacramento’s greatest, and hardest-won, urban success stories in generations.

Stretching from 7th to 8th street on K, this project that Miry helped give rise to—newly dubbed The Hardin, after Sacramento’s first mayor, Hardin Bigelow—is an uninterrupted collection of nine historic buildings, each with two to three levels of retail. In one of the buildings, for example, you’ll soon walk downstairs to a subterranean restaurant operated by one of Sacramento’s top chefs. In another, you’ll walk upstairs to a rooftop deck on a balmy night for a drink with friends. One of the second-story spots will house a cycling gym that simulates rides through Paris and New York, and in yet another structure, a bi-level bar will serve craft cocktails and small plates via mobile carts.

And peeking out from behind the buildings is a new six-story structure with 137 apartments, 60 percent of which are designated as affordable housing. The residences opened in May. Most of the units were spoken for before the doors ever opened.

The end result, when each space is filled, will arguably represent Sacramento’s most complete urban experience, where people live, work and play around the clock. By the time the last bar on the block closes at 2 a.m., only a few quiet hours will pass until the neighboring cafes start serving coffee and bagels. It’s the promise of what is possible.

But for Miry & Co., it’s also deeply personal. 

* * * * *

Back in 2010—long before the Golden 1 Center was even a glimmer in former Mayor Kevin Johnson’s eye—Bay Miry and his good friend Ali Youssefi, both the sons of immigrant real estate developers from Iran, conjoined their two families’ companies to buy the 700 block of K Street from the city’s redevelopment agency with a bold proposal. “Historic preservation, innovative construction, local, really cool retail, mixed-income housing, affordable housing—it’s so rare to have those different components as part of one project,” Miry says. “It was a really nice harmony of our philosophies, and having them come together made it a really cool collaborative.”

Miry and Youssefi had a lot in common. They shared an interest in art and culture and a vision of Sacramento’s future as a dynamic, contemporary city. The pair learned a great deal from their parents, and also drew inspiration from the generation of visionary developers just between the fathers and scions, people like Ron Vrilakas, Mark Friedman, Sotiris Kolokotronis, Michael Heller and David Taylor, now in their 50s and 60s, who pioneered enlightened infill development and whose love of architecture and city life laid the groundwork for the renaissances in midtown, downtown, Oak Park and West Sacramento’s Bridge District.

 

Gregg Lukenbill taking it all on. Checked out #golden1center for the first time last night for a fun 3 hrs of #paulmccartney. Getting there was an easy stroll from Midtown. It was beautiful seeing all the people & energy flowing along K St on a weeknight. Walking around felt smooth & seamless. Walked a block after & easily uber'd. Would've walked back to Midtown after but two in our group were from the burbs so ride shared. Total cost back to burbs for them was $15. Great job @michaeltuohy w/ G1's food. And proud of @ryan_seng for @cancancocktails. I was impressed by the Koons sculpture & even more impressed by all the photos people took with it. It's no Chicago Bean but cool nonetheless. Same w/ the local art, green walls, benches, etc. Overall experience was enjoyable & painless. Photo is of the scene outside #700block afterwards. Our team is announcing more exciting additions to our retail lineup soon 🎉

A post shared by Bay Miry (@baymiry) on

 

“When I got started in trying to do things in the downtown core 25 years ago or more,” Vrilakas remembers, “there was a general pessimism about building housing downtown and building up a city to be on par with other cities that were changing for the better, like Portland and San Diego. Often what people would say is, ‘There’s nobody developing those sorts of projects here, and nobody is going to.’ Now thankfully, with a second, even third generation of people coming up, that statement couldn’t be more false.”

Of the two second-generation developers, Youssefi was the mixed-rate housing enthusiast. Joining his family’s business in 2005 soon after graduating from Dartmouth College, the Jesuit High School alum learned the ins and outs of constructing housing for an urban population in California while working with his dad Cyrus, who had immigrated here from Iran in 1980 and carved out a niche building low-income apartments and senior living campuses through his company, CFY Development (the initials represent his name and that of his wife Fetneh). Recognizing early on that affordable housing for a city’s creative class was essential to the vitality of the community, the younger Youssefi, still in his 20s, visited a then-new venture in 2010 called the Artspace Tannery Lofts in Santa Cruz—an affordable housing project with 100 units for artists—and was inspired to bring a similar model to Sacramento.

A year later, CFY proposed converting an old warehouse at 11th and R into the Warehouse Artist Lofts, known now as WAL, and the building opened in 2015 to much fanfare, with a mile-long waiting list (today, the most popular units have a four-year wait time), creating instant buzz for R Street, downtown and the local creative community. WAL’s retail tenant mix was equally noteworthy, with an eclectic blend that included bespoke cobbler Benjamins, Kicksville Vinyl & Vintage and other nontraditional retailers that normally can’t afford high-quality retail space but bring cultural texture to the urban fabric.

From left: Developers Steve Lebastchi, Bay Miry, David Miry, Ali Youssefi and Cyrus Youssefi in December 2014 after signing the closing documents for The Hardin. (Photo courtesy of Bay Miry)

As evidenced by his own R Street project, which gave birth to placemaking establishments like Shady Lady and Magpie (more on this later), retail has long been Miry’s passion. Going to college in Berkeley opened his eyes up to what a bustling street scene could feel like, and he and Youssefi fed each other’s enthusiasms and kept each other focused on the big picture while working together on The Hardin. “Ali and I would go on all these trips to other cities like Austin, Boston and San Diego,” Miry says. “There were so many things we learned from those cities, like if we could make this project predominantly with local tenants, that would really magnify what Sacramento’s culture is all about.” Through their fathers’ businesses, the two young men found a way to build the kind of city they wanted to live in.

Fast forward nearly a decade and here is 37-year-old Miry, poised to drop a kaleidoscopic urban renewal bomb on K Street. But as he is quick to point out, it takes a village to build a single city block, and he frequently deflects credit onto other members of his company, D&S Development, and the Youssefis’ CFY Development.

The reason Miry is so uncomfortable acting as the face of The Hardin, is that this was never supposed to be the Bay Miry show. But Youssefi died of a fast-moving stomach cancer in March, blindsiding the developers, artists, restaurateurs and community activists that counted the 35-year-old visionary as one of their own, and leaving D&S and CFY to complete the project without him.

“It’s been really hard on us, and on our city,” says Miry, of both the personal and widespread impact of Youssefi’s passing. “He was such a young and dynamic developer, and what he was working on was something that most developers don’t go into, which is complicated, affordable, mixed-income housing. Those are not projects that you build and eventually sell. No one’s going to buy affordable housing because there’s no upside. So, you’re really building it because of what it means for the community.”

"Ali [Youssefi] and I would go to other cities like Austin, Boston and San Diego," Bay Miry says. "There were so many things we learned from those cities, like if we could make [The Hardin] predominantly with local tenants, that would really magnify what Sacramento's culture is all about."

In talking about The Hardin, Miry cycles quickly from pride to wincing humility to melancholy and back to a glimpse of the joy Youssefi would no doubt have felt at seeing their project near completion. Ali’s father, of course, knows this devastating mix of emotions all too well. Cyrus spent Father’s Day looking at press clippings about his son’s accomplishments and feeling proud, but when asked if he thinks Ali would be satisfied with the way The Hardin has turned out, he sighs ruefully and says, “He would never be satisfied, I kid you not. He would find something and say, ‘The next project that I do, I will do this differently.’ He had an eye for detail and design and such exquisite taste. But he would be glad that it’s completed.”

As it happens, Ali’s next project was right across the street, a partnership between CFY and the Sacramento Kings to develop several parcels on the 800 block of K and L streets. Ali was a minority owner in the sports franchise—one of 19 citizens who answered Mayor Johnson’s call to invest $1 million each to help save the team in 2013—and saw an opportunity to build on the momentum of the 700 block by adding another 170 apartments, including some affordable housing, and more retail. Once complete—the 800 block complex is expected to break ground soon—the combined projects will house approximately 500 new residents within a few hundred feet of 8th and K streets, a staggering leap forward for revitalizing downtown.

*****

Construction dust is everywhere on a May morning that happens to be the first day tenants are moving into the 137 apartments that occupy the higher floors of the complex. All but a few of the 17 retail spaces below have been rented, and some occupants, like Ruhstaller’s new basement taproom, are on the brink of opening, while others are readying for their launch in the fall and winter, like the much-anticipated Solomon’s Delicatessen, where work is about to begin on the restoration of a trippy, psychedelic mural that Tower Records founder Russ Solomon commissioned in 1973 for the portico of what was then a Tower outlet.

Bay Miry and Ali Youssefi in April 2015 at the grand opening of the Warehouse Artist Lofts complex, which was created by Youssefi's company, CFY Development. (Photo by of Nicholas Wray

“That’s a great story,” Miry says of how Solomon’s came together through an encounter with his friend Andrea Lepore, co-founder of Hot Italian Pizza. “I’d been wanting to do something with Andrea forever, and we were talking, and she said, ‘I’ll get back to you with ideas.’ ” Lepore had long thought about creating a classic Jewish deli—a conspicuously missing link in the Sacramento food scene—so she pitched Miry on opening one there to honor Solomon and the history of Tower at the location, joining forces with the owners of The Red Rabbit restaurant and the founders of the Sacramento Jewish Food Faire on the endeavor. “It was this all-star team of local people partnering up,” says Miry. “I was just blown away.”

The Red Rabbit group also has a hand in another upcoming Hardin spot, Tiger, a small-plates-concept restaurant and bar in the middle of the block. Two doors down, Billy Ngo, the celebrated chef-owner of East Sacramento’s Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, is planning an underground ramen spot called Kodaiko. Other tenants include Insight Coffee Roasters, MidiCi Pizza, Sweet ’n Salty desserterie and KoJa Kitchen, a two-level Korean-Japanese fusion restaurant that will have a futuristic basement bar with touch-screen surfaces on which to place orders. The block will also house two rooftop lounges where patrons will be able to take in city views.

It won’t be all food and drink, either. The buzzy, locally based clothier All Good will set up its first permanent hometown store here. And two boutique fitness studios will open on site as well: a bike gym called All City Riders, which will occupy a second-floor space with dozens of stationary bikes facing a giant video screen that will simulate rides through global cities, and a new outlet for the El Dorado Hills-based Climb Society, featuring high-tech climbing machines.

"A lot of developers are nameless faces who build and charge you a percentage rent. Bay is not just a developer," says Jason Boggs of Shady Lady. "He isn't just trying to find somebody to pay rent. He really has a vision for what he wants the city to be. Truly his No. 1 goal is to make Sacramento cool."

Miry has a knack for curation, an artful mixologist’s eye for shaking up intoxicating retail cocktails. “Having as many of those local businesses as we can here is a really cool opportunity for our city,” he says. “Most downtowns you go into in other cities, you see the same things in all of them. Then you go to their neighborhoods, and that’s where you truly see what the city is all about.”

Next door to Solomon’s Deli, J.E. Paino, owner of the locally based Ruhstaller Beer, is down to arranging bottles on shelves in advance of opening a rustic taproom whose patio resembles the brewery’s Dixon hop farm and whose interior is lined with cleverly deconstructed pallet crates. “One of the things that’s really impressive here is the mix of tenants,” Pain says. “It’s an instant neighborhood. It’s like you never need to leave the block. That doesn’t just happen. That takes skill, it takes perseverance and it takes vision. We’ve all got to credit Bay for that. He brought in a lot of both experienced and maybe not-so-experienced operators and took chances, and it’s coming together.”

“I like to call it coopetition,” says Sonny Mayugba of The Red Rabbit and Tiger, speaking to the unprecedented “big bang” of more than a dozen places to eat, drink and be merry opening in the space of a few months on a single block. “Let’s work together to ignite and activate the community.”

A few of these entrepreneurs were strangers to Miry when they signed their leases, but most, like Mayugba, were friends he’d accumulated over 15 years spent putting his money where his mouth is—living, working, dining and socializing in downtown and midtown.

*****

When Miry enrolled at UC Berkeley, the Fair Oaks-bred young man thought he’d be making his way in the Bay Area after college. But in 2003, only a week or so after graduation, his father David fell ill from a liver infection, prompting him to return home to help out at D&S Development, the company started by his dad and Steve Lebastchi back in 1986 (yep, D&S stands for David & Steve). The pair had built restaurant and retail properties together, largely in the suburbs, including the chain Chubby’s Diner and franchises like Subway. The partners cut their development teeth slotting fast-food franchises into gas stations.

To get up to speed quickly, Miry began shadowing Lebastchi, who, like his father, is a Persian immigrant. “He’s like a second dad to me and a mentor,” Miry says. “He was building a few different shopping centers and retail strip centers, more suburban-style development: buy a center, give it a facelift, fill it up with tenants, work with the tenants.” Some of those projects involved rehabbing properties, and Miry appreciated Lebastchi’s talent for that kind of creative problem solving. By the time David Miry recovered, his son had fallen in love with the work. “That was the inflection point at which I decided to stay in Sacramento [for good],” the younger Miry says. 

A few examples of placemaking projects by D&S Development: (top, from left) 1430 Q, an 8.5-story mixed-use complex, is rising across from Fremont Park; the company’s development of the Perfection Bakery structure in the late aughts helped kick-start R Street’s renaissance; (bottom, from left) 16 Powerhouse, the LEED Gold-certified mid-rise at 16th and P, sold for $32.5 million in March; in 2011, D&S worked with CFY to complete a thoughtful renovation of the historic Maydestone apartment building at 15th & J, adding 32 affordable housing units to the urban core (1430 Q courtesy of D&S Development; all other photos by Nicholas Wray)

Joining D&S officially in 2004 at the age of 22, he brought to the team a keen interest in mixed-use urban infill development. (Another member of the second generation, Lebastchi’s daughter Sara, came on board in 2010.) As Bay became more involved in the family business, D&S began investing more heavily in the central city. The company purchased properties like the Sterling Hotel, the brick building at 17th and Broadway that housed Beatnik Studios, and the Mechanics’ Exchange building in Old Sacramento, whose non-retail spaces it converted into lofts.

In 2008, recognizing that R Street was the next frontier in downtown’s evolution, D&S bought the historic Perfection Bakery building at 14th & R. The company wasn’t the first to stake a claim on the corridor, but its purchase of the structure and subsequent thoughtful curation of forward-thinking entrepreneurs significantly grew the burgeoning district’s cachet. Bay wanted to build properties that could launch “the kind of cool mom-and-pop tenants that personify Berkeley,” and with David and Lebastchi’s extensive restaurant background, the team had the right pieces to create something out of the ordinary.

As luck would have it, the first restaurateurs to answer a classified ad in the Bee for space inside the Perfection Bakery property were the cool “mom and pop” of Miry’s dreams, Ed Roehr and Janel Inouye. The couple, who had a successful catering operation already underway, became D&S’s inaugural tenants on R Street with Magpie, which quickly turned into one of the city’s most-lauded restaurants. Miry discovered the original Burgers & Brew while visiting friends attending UC Davis, and persuaded the owners to open a second location on R Street.

Then along came Shady Lady. Miry had become a regular at Randy Paragary’s R Street bar, R15, where Miry’s old Rio Americano high school pal Alex Origoni worked. Origoni and two other R15 staffers, Jason Boggs and Garrett Van Vleck, had a concept for a speakeasy-style saloon serving pre-Prohibition craft cocktails. “They told us to go check out Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco,” Miry says. “I was blown away.”

From left: D&S converted a gas station outside East Sacramento into Tako Korean BBQ in 2012; the rehabbed Washington Firehouse in West Sacramento is home to a Burgers & Brew and Station 1 jazz club (Tako photo by Nicholas Wray; Firehouse by Jeremy Sykes)

“A lot of developers are nameless faces who build and then charge you a percentage rent,” says Boggs. “It makes it harder for you to even survive, and they don’t care because if you go out of business, they’ll just bring somebody else. Bay is not just a developer. He isn’t just trying to find somebody to pay rent. He really has a vision for what he wants the city to be. Truly his No. 1 goal is to make Sacramento cool.”

Miry’s instinct to take a chance on the first-time entrepreneurs turned out to be spot-on: the Shady Lady Saloon has earned plaudits from publications like Esquire, which named it one of the 25 best bars in America in 2014, and The New York Times, which called it “Sacramento’s sexiest cocktail bar” this past May.

Selling the handful of condos above the restaurants took some creativity during the Great Recession in the late aughts, but everybody in the family business pitched in. “Steve staged the units, picking out furniture, I’d put the signs on the street, my mom would hold open houses,” Miry says. “We sold out.”

Without realizing it at the time, with the R Street undertaking, D&S had created an early template for The Hardin. The Mirys and Lebastchi had purchased a historic downtown structure, lovingly restored it and populated it with intensely local and innovative tenants, while creating a residential component upstairs.

No sooner had D&S finished the Perfection Bakery project than the city—after spending years and tens of millions to assemble all the individual properties—launched a public search for a buyer to transform the troubled stretch of K Street between 7th and 8th. D&S decided to pursue the bid and invited the Youssefis’ company, CFY, to join as a partner due to their affordable housing experience. By July 2010, the team had won the bid, beating out bigger players because city leaders bought into the developers’ vision for a livable, hyperlocal city with a focus on preservation. Their enthusiasm was infectious.

“I remember [Ali and me] going to K Street together in the evenings and dreaming about how to design the space, how much housing to have, what we could do with each building, where we could put the community room, and how cool it was going to be to have rooftop patios, to bring stuff to Sacramento that we liked about other cities’ neighborhoods,” Miry recalls. “It was really fun.”

Less fun was had when the project hit several delays, including trouble refinancing when the state of California dissolved its redevelopment agencies, creating a bureaucratic maze for any projects initiated under them. Eventually construction resumed in 2015, with Bay Miry and Ali Youssefi taking the lead on the daunting task of leasing 137 apartments and filling 17 retail spaces with complementary businesses. One of the lessons the younger Miry learned from his father was to offer local entrepreneurs help above and beyond just a rental agreement. “He’s all about communication, whether it’s a tenant or a bank or a subcontractor, making sure there’s a culture of everyone feeling like it’s a win-win,” Bay says. “That is a big thing I’ve learned from him.”

*****

Since, for Miry, work is a family affair, it seems only fitting that he found his match in Katherine Bardis, whom he married last September. Also the scion of a real estate development family, Bardis— who now goes by Bardis-Miry—is half of Bardis Homes (her partner is her cousin, Rachel Bardis), which is responsible for The Mill at Broadway, the residential complex pitched to appeal to empty nesters and first-time millennial buyers alike. The two are constantly on the lookout for new civic inspiration, even on vacation.

“We travel to see what kind of projects other cities are doing,” Bardis-Miry says. The pair’s Instagram pages, populated with images from these working vacations, resemble the mood boards that new restaurants often use for design ideas—their posts have included photos of everything from a neon-lit basement lounge and performance space in Portland to a wall of faux piranha skeletons in a restaurant in San Diego, and a steel shipping container park in London.

And far from being annoyed that Miry will return calls and emails at any hour of the day, she praises that quality. “Bay always finds a way to get the job done, no matter what, and he gets it done that day,” she says admiringly. “Work takes over because we want it to, and we let it. It makes our relationship more dynamic.”

Bay Miry on K Street by The Hardin on June 21 (Photo by Max Whittaker)

In that spirit, the couple plans to create a joint office space in The Hardin. There, from his second-floor perch on K Street, Miry will continue working on the 700 block, as well as other endeavors. D&S is investing heavily in the up-and-coming Washington neighborhood in West Sacramento, for instance, which he describes as Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Sacramento’s Manhattan. A prime corner lot awaits development at 3rd and C streets, across from a Burgers & Brew and the Station 1 jazz club, which occupy another D&S property, a renovated historic firehouse, and next to a charming brick retail strip that houses Devil May Care ice cream store, Ray Mata’s Barber Shop and, come August, La Crosta, a new pizzeria and marketplace by the husband-and-wife team behind The Rind cheese bar in midtown.

Back on the other side of the river, the company’s new 8.5-story complex at 15th and Q, with 75 apartments, is already rising and will open later next year. Extending his streak of populating the River City with cool retail, Miry has recruited a former longtime member of Berkeley’s legendary Cheese Board Collective to launch a pizzeria and bakery inside the property.

And last year, the Mirys and Lebastchi purchased the historic Bank of America building at 8th and I streets. Compared to The Hardin, this project is proceeding at a lightning pace, despite the need to preserve the building’s mid-century modern façade and parts of its interior. Next to it, plans are afoot to top an existing underground parking lot with a structure that could hold a combination of hotel rooms, apartments and retail.

In the same way that 2016 Instagram photo was a glimpse into 2018, Miry hopes The Hardin will offer a glimpse into the city we’re poised to become.

Look closely again at the picture and you’ll see Gregg Lukenbill, the man who, with fellow developers Bob Cook and Joe Benvenuti, brought the Kings to Sacramento in 1985 and built the team’s first two arenas (also downtown’s first luxury hotel, the Hyatt Regency, so visiting opponents would have somewhere to stay). He appears as a lone figure standing still against the tide of concertgoers, a man in a blue shirt, hands in pockets, wearing a far-eyed expression that might be at once bemused and proud.

Lukenbill took Sacramento to another level with his brash, get-it-done belief that the city was ready for bigger things. Miry is anything but brash, but like Lukenbill, he is getting it done and helping push the city forward.

Speaking days after an outdoor festival on R Street that drew 5,000 people in June, Miry says he can’t wait to see that energy on K. “When The Hardin opens up, it’ll be like that [R Street festival] on steroids,” he says. “That’s the exciting part about all this for us—we’ll be able to bring thousands of people together and have an opportunity to show people what it really means to be Sacramentan. It’s going to be a really special thing.”S

Check out an annotated map of The Hardin below (click to enlarge)

When completed, The Hardin—which will span the entire south side of K Street between 7th and 8th—will create the most densely populated retail block in downtown Sacramento. Here's the lowdown on the noteworthy new neighbors who will keep the area hopping from morning to midnight and beyond