Sacramento has never had the allure of other California cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco or even San Diego. But now its downtown is undergoing a dramatic, $5 billion transformation that city officials hope will change people's perceptions of the state capital.

Georgia-based Thomas Enterprises, Inc., is heading the revival on a 240-acre railyard site in downtown Sacramento. The plan calls for restoring seven historic railroad buildings and creating six distinct mixed-use districts with 20 million square feet of residential and commercial space. The design for the entire project is being overseen by the Jerde Partnership.

A new Sports & Entertainment District, located on the northern portion of the site, will include an arena for the NBA's Sacramento Kings and host other venues, as well as house retail, restaurant, nightclub, office, hotel and high-rise residential uses. Bass Pro Outdoor World has committed to building a 225,000-square-foot store here. “This will be a major draw and great, complementary addition to the site,” says Sheil Totah, vice president of development for Thomas Enterprises.

The Fifth Street Emporium, running through the center of the development south of the entertainment district, will be the project's Main Street shopping district and feature one or two stories of retail with three to four stories of loft-style housing and office space above — similar to San Jose's Santana Row, he notes.

A portion of Fifth Street, which originates on the south border of the site, will be built on a bridge connecting the corridor to the city's central business district for the first time.

The Sacramento Railyards, the hub for the original Central Pacific Railroad and the largest railroad complex west of the Mississippi, was the principal fabrication and maintenance facility for the Transcontinental Railroad connection to the East, employing 4,000 workers at its peak in the early 20th century. The overall project will be built in phases over the next 20 years. The first phase of the project is expected to open in 2010.