Perris Capital Projects
By Jim Forbes, Publisher
San Antonio has its Riverwalk, New York is Broadway and Hollywood the Sunset Strip. The historic legacies of each of those communities have created contemporary destinations, attracting visitors near and far.
So why not Perris? Destination Perris! “Water Sports, skydiving, racecars and trains,” are the destination features of the city, notes Darcy Burke, spokesperson for the Southern California Railway Museum (SCRM) in Perris.
Obviously, the trains came first, settlers cutting a deal with the California Southern Railroad to create a station stop in its run between what is now Barstow and San Diego in the 1880’s. The railroad’ s chief engineer was Fred T Perris.
Fast-forward nearly a century-and-a-half, the city is literally looking to connect the tracks of the past and present.
“Destination Perris” is an ambitious concept for revitalizing the city’s core, by connecting the Metrolink tracks at the historic Perris Depot with the local treasure, SCRM, which houses the largest collection of locomotives, electric trolleys, and rail cars in the west.
Ambitious, visionary, and expensive.
But the ambitious vision just received an economic boost with the signing of the new California budget, which earmarked millions of dollars for two projects in Perris.
Through the efforts of State Senator Richard Roth and Assemblyman Corey A. Jackson, the budget appropriated $7 million toward the rail connection and another $2 million toward the upgrade and expansion of the Perris Senior Center.
Plans for the senior center will increase the facility to 2,250 square feet, expanding the multipurpose and nutrition rooms while renovating the kitchen.
Improved meal services are on the menu, as are interactive events and educational sessions to better serve the needs of the senior community.
Serving community needs is the feature of the rail project as well. “It’s really about a way to connect people, both people from Perris to go to other places and other people to come to explore what Perris has to offer,” Burke explains.
For the many residents’ dependent on public transportation, parts of the city are a transit desert. There is no feasible way to travel from the historic depot to SCRM. And the area between is hardly enticing to the 100,000 yearly visitors to the museum. There is no connection with the city center.
So, the concept of Destination Perris, beyond connecting the depot to the museum, is to revitalize that stretch, creating a vibrant destination that runs the length of downtown to the museum. Beautification, rife with native vegetation, energy efficient and progressive initiatives from EV charging and Solar generation to capturing rainwater.
“This whole concept…was really to address a number of critical infrastructure challenges,” Burke adds.
The initial estimated price tag for all of that, less than a year ago, was nearly $28 million, four times the state contribution just allocated. Inflation and continuing supply chain challenges aren’t reducing the cost, Burke acknowledges.
But the plan is betting on the proposition, “If you build it, they will come.”
Tired big city neighborhoods in San Diego and San Francisco revitalized into bustling draws with the construction of downtown ballparks in the past two decades.
Size is relevant. Historic but tired, smaller cities like Ventura and Culver City have also enjoyed a major renaissance in the past two decades by recapturing their roots.
Slightly larger than Perris, Ventura restored the charm of its downtown with small shops, eateries, microbreweries, and pedestrian friendly upgrades while celebrating its coast.
Half the size of Perris, Culver City has done the same with its downtown, while tapping into its movie studio lot origins, beginning with the famed MGM, lions at the gate.
Perris is a railroad town. And a water sports town. And a skydiving town. And a racing town.
A little cohesion can go a long way. Connecting the tracks.
As Darcy Burke says, “It’s not just about the train museum. It’s about how are we connecting people.”
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