Pac Station South groundbreaking begins remake of Lower Pacific

Pacific Station South rendering
Pacific Station South breaks ground on Thursday, with completion estimated for May 2024.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

As four new housing projects — aiming to add 185 units around lower Pacific Avenue and Front Street — begin to take shape, Pacific Station South gets going.

More affordable housing is on its way to downtown, with the city of Santa Cruz breaking ground on two projects Thursday morning. The projects are part of the grander changes to downtown, and show how vastly different parts of Santa Cruz will look in just a few years.

One of the projects: Pacific Station South, a seven-story, mixed-use building with 70 100% affordable residential units, ground-floor commercial space and medical office space on the second floor. Of those housing units, 22 are reserved for disabled individuals and 18 for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Applicants for these units will have income levels of 30-60% of the area median income — approximately $41,700 or less for an individual or up to $83,400 for a four-person household.

Those 70 units make up a good share of the 185 units now in development for the in-process remaking of the lower Front/Pacific area in downtown Santa Cruz, as shown below.

The city of Santa Cruz kicks off its project groundbreaking at 11 a.m. Thursday, followed by a short walk to the second groundbreaking at 525 Cedar St.

The Pac Station South project is part of the larger Pacific Station redevelopment plan, made up of five parcels owned by the city of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, including the existing Metro Pacific Station complex.

The adjacent construction project, now going up quickly at the corner of Front and Laurel streets, is a 205-unit, mixed-use development, helmed by private developer Anton Development. The project is estimated to be completed in summer 2023.

For the Pacific Station project, the development area currently houses three commercial buildings, two of which are part of the Metro station and the other being the city-owned NIAC office building (where Lookout currently operates). Those buildings will be demolished as part of the redevelopment.

The redevelopment plan has been in the works since 2002, and the Santa Cruz City Council moved it forward in January 2021.

Jessica de Wit, manager of the city’s Housing & Community Development division, told Lookout the process to redevelop this edge of downtown goes back to discussions that followed the city-changing 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

“There was a huge community engagement process that predates my time with the city of Santa Cruz, and an effort to create a downtown specific plan, which was approved in 2017,” she said. “All of that has culminated over the last … three decades, and now we looked at what would be possible.”

That led to the project split into two parts: Pacific Station North, north of the Maple Alley pedestrian walkway, and Pacific Station South, south of Maple Alley. The alley itself will be expanded from 10 feet wide to 30 feet wide as part of the redevelopment. Pacific Station North will break ground in summer 2023.

525 Cedar Street rendering
525 Cedar Street — also known as the Calvary Church project — will have 65 100% affordable housing units, retail space and a public paseo. The project is expected to open in late 2023.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

Because the project includes 100% affordable housing, the city has been able to streamline permitting processes, which helped to fast-track the projects. De Wit noted both Assembly Bill 2162 (providing at least 25% supportive housing units) and Assembly Bill 1763 (offering a density bonus for projects located near major transit hubs) as significant drivers of the project.

Additionally, Pacific Station South uses six funding sources to get the project off the ground, with the city providing the land, state and community development funds.

De Wit said the city looks to “activate” the area to be of the most community benefit, with the Metro transit station, pop-up eateries and space for community gathering: “It’s going to transform, it’s going to be really nice … the more we can provide homes downtown, the more we can make sure our local businesses thrive.”

The city estimates construction to be completed in May 2024. Income-eligible applicants will enter a lottery for the units approximately six months prior to the project completion.

The second project, several blocks to the west, at 525 Cedar St. — also known as the Calvary Church project — will also be a mixed-use development, with 65 100% affordable housing units, retail space and a public paseo. That project, with its groundbreaking Thursday as well, is expected to open in late 2023.