The new housing development on Cedar Street near the Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Santa Cruz
The new housing development on Cedar Street near the Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Santa Cruz adds some blue to contrast with the church’s red.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Santa Cruz

Shiny facades herald emergence of new-look downtown Santa Cruz, with housing coming in 2024

Now built out and putting on their public faces, the Anton Pacific Apartments and Center/Cedar developments are approaching their final shapes. New housing units will be available next year as other projects — including the new downtown library — aim for 2025.

Everybody’s got a different view on the pace of the new housing construction in downtown Santa Cruz. For some, it’s happening at breathtaking speed. For others, it’s moving with all the haste of a banana slug on a redwood log.

How we each experience the passage of time is relative, but big projects like these have concrete schedules, and as we approach the end of summer 2023, the new downtown skyline is starting to emerge. It might be jarring for a local to walk down, say, Laurel Street from Santa Cruz High School to look into the middle distance and see an enormous apartment building where one didn’t exist before. And though the Anton Pacific Apartments building — located on Laurel in the block between Pacific Avenue and Front Street — is far from complete, its nearly finished exterior is giving us a clue on what Santa Cruz will one day look like. In this case, it’s lots of glass in the bottom floors and balconies overlooking Laurel.

Another new downtown building that is nearing completion — at least in its exterior look — is the new Center/Cedar project near Calvary Episcopal Church. The new building’s rich blues and whites gives a crisp contrast to the famously “red” church next door.

“I think that the exterior is largely getting finished, but they still have a lot of work to do inside,” said the city’s asset and development manager, Dave McCormic. “Some of the units, you can see in, and they look like they’re coming together. But I would expect it sometime in the winter or early spring that we would start to see them really getting finished.”

Other than those nearly finished facades, there’s not much more in terms of dramatic changes in store for downtown Santa Cruz for the rest of 2023. Developer Anton Pacific has said that it expects to begin leasing its 205 market-rate units sometime in the first quarter of 2024. The Center/Cedar project could also begin leasing its 65 affordable units in early ’24.

The Anton Pacific Apartments emerging at Laurel and Front streets in downtown Santa Cruz
The Anton Pacific Apartments are emerging on what is likely to be busy pedestrian corner at Laurel and Front streets in a future downtown Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The biggest change in the physical environment of downtown this summer has been the razing of the buildings along Front Street to make way for construction of the Riverfront Apartments. The Riverfront is the middle of three proposed developments along Front Street between Soquel Avenue and Laurel Street. Construction has been ongoing on the pilings and foundations of the Riverfront buildings. McCormic said the public will probably see the “podium” emerge from the site long before the wood framing is erected.

“I would say in the next few months we’ll probably start seeing them work on the podium, which is the first couple of floors that will be largely concrete,” he said. “And that would be the parking floors and the ground floor retail heading up to the Riverwalk. That’ll give you a sense of scale of the structure and how it connects to the Riverwalk.”

Demolition of existing buildings is not expected to begin on either of the proposals flanking the Riverfront — Five 30 Front at Soquel Avenue, which is still working on building plans with the city, and the proposed Cruz Hotel, which has not yet been approved.

The Metro bus station and the neighboring NIAC building between Pacific and Front are expected to look and operate much as they do now until the end of the year. McCormic said February is the likely date when demolition of existing buildings on that parcel is expected to take place and construction of the new Metro bus station and the Pacific Station North affordable housing complex will begin. The new downtown branch of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries is still a long way from breaking ground — deep into 2024, if not 2025.

Also expected in coming months is the gradual development of the public paseos adjacent to some of the new buildings and the San Lorenzo Riverwalk. McCormic said a curious passerby might be able to envision what paseo alongside the Cedar Street building might look like one day: “If you peek through the fence, you might be able to see the plants going in and the pavement, which is kind of a sneak peek of what’s coming.”

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