Downtown Sacramento restaurants seeing less business during Capitol renovations

By Michelle Bandur

Joint rules committee chair insists project will finish on time by 2026

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The past two years have been full of irregularities and hardship for downtown Sacramento businesses, with restrictions issued because of COVID-19. But work to modernize the California state Capitol has also been a challenge.

Many restaurants nearby rely on business from lawmakers and capitol workers to keep them going. Yet the annex renovation has restaurants wondering how long the project is really going to take.

Aziz Bellarbi-Salah is the owner of Brasserie du Monde, a restaurant on 1201 K Street. At his restaurant, like many, you won't have to wait very long for a table for lunch as many capitol workers still take their lunch breaks at home.

"I'm coming up on seven years here with an option to renew my lease in 2.5. What am I thinking about my future? I built a rest for 30 years, not for a decade," Bellarbi-Salah said.

Frustrations have led some to resort to filing lawsuits to try to stop the renovation.

Dick Cowan is with Save Our Capitol, an outspoken group seeking to keep the 1950s-era annex, nearly 200 trees and the west steps of the Capitol, left alone. The group believes they could create a project that would take half as long and cost half as much money.

"We haven't given up," Cowan said.

One alternative renovation plan claims that it would cost $500 million — the current project will cost about $1.2 billion — while putting the new visitor center elsewhere and keeping parking at the swing space building lawmakers and staff currently use.

"We think leaders of the state could save this project and save money and save time and the impact on the downtown businesses as well," Cowan said.

Joint Rules Committee Chairman Ken Cooley said the project is on track to be completed by early 2026.

"The project will be done so Gavin Newsom will be able to celebrate the people's house, his last year as governor," Cooley said.

He also said people are already returning downtown.

"The legislature is conducting business and bringing people back into the downtown," Cooley said. "We had a two-year hiatus, so that's already changed."

Bellarbi-Salah just wants his lunch rush to return.

"Downtown: Every time it's been given life, every time it's been given an opportunity, it's been followed by a punch in the face — a nice haymaker," he said.