Gold Rush Attraction



Gold Rush Visitor Attraction

Concept Study

Prepared for Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau

Prepared by Parsons 2003



This Executive Summary presents the findings and conclusions of a study undertaken by Parsons, in collaboration with Barry Howard Ltd., at the request of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB), to develop a concept for a visitor attraction based on the California Gold Rush. The study represents the conclusion of a first phase overview of the potential for such a project, examining concepts for physical development as well as general market and financial parameters, and operations approach; the next steps in implementing the project are also outlined

In general, the study findings support the stakeholder aspirations, expressed at the outset of the study, to create a highly attractive, financially sustainable visitor attraction which celebrates the defining moment of California history, the Gold Rush. This attraction, to be located in Old Sacramento on a site with authentic ties to the Gold Rush, can enhance visitation to Sacramento and other Gold Rush-related sites in locations outside of Sacramento, and provide an educational and entertaining experience for visitors. While some organizational challenges face such an undertaking, the resultant project's benefits to all stakeholders are substantial and merit broad-based community support.

In the process of developing the concept for the visitor attraction, several sites in and around the City of Sacramento were evaluated and considered. Based on a variety of factors including authenticity, access, visibility, cost and implementation requirements, the site considered most appropriate for the project was determined to be within the Old Sacramento area. More specifically, the site comprises the block bordered on the north and south by I and J streets and on the east and west by Second and Front Streets, identified on State Master Plans as the "1849 Scene" and may include one or more adjacent facilities including the Enterprise Hotel and/or the Discovery Museum. In ruling out the other potential sites, one of the compelling arguments against a site which was not within the authentic setting provided by Old Sacramento is that developing a major new cultural attraction outside the well-established destination which this area represents is that assuming that a highly attractive, well-funded project could be developed elsewhere, this "new attraction" could have a deleterious effect on visitation to Old Sacramento, in effect pulling existing levels of visitation from the area and attracting new visitors to the new attraction.

Old Sacramento - View of Existing "1849 Scene" - Located Approximately 12 feet below grade.
Conceptual Site Plan



As with the site selection process, a variety of potential concepts for the attraction were examined ranging from a theme park to a conventional museum. Given the state-of-the art in the arena of new cultural attractions which is moving towards more immersive environments, as opposed to static, conventional museums, and mandate on the part of stakeholders to fashion a project which can be financially attractive to private investment in order to ensure a sustainable operation, the concept for the project envisions the following:

  • Excavation of the existing 1849 Scene and reconstruction of selected structures.

  • An enclosed, air-conditioned, environment encompassing the 1849 scene and its reconstructed structures which will allow visitors to explore the site and learn about the City of Sacramento at the time of the Gold Rush.

  • An attractive, educational and entertaining simulator ride which traces the origins of mankind's fascination with gold through it's discovery at Sutter's Mill to the various technologies which were and are used in its extraction.

  • A theater facility which will present an audiovisual production tracing the impact of the Gold Rush on the people, economy, infrastructure and environment of California. A particular focus of the presentation will be on the various sites which are located near Sacramento which visitors can explore in order to gain more in-depth information about the Gold Rush. These sites, which comprise a "Threads of Gold" network of outlying attractions, could be visited in organized tours departing from Old Sacramento. The theater could also be utilized as a performance venue in the evenings for dinner-theater productions including music and other contemporary entertainment.

  • A range of food and beverage services, along with retail shopping would also be available.

Some alternative concepts were explored considering opportunities for the reuse of the Gold Fever exhibition which was developed by the Oakland Museum some years ago and now is stored in a warehouse in Sacramento. These alternatives include the possible renovation and restoration of the Enterprise Hotel or the repurposing of the Discovery Museum.

Market/Financial Parameters

A preliminary market and financial evaluation of the visitor attraction concept was prepared which estimates that the project could attract an annual attendance of approximately 380,000 people including residents of the Sacramento area, overnight tourists and school children. Each visitor would spend an average of $15 on admissions, food and beverage and retail, generating a direct economic benefit of approximately $12 million; a staff of about 50 employees would be required including full and part-time positions. Given the potential for the facility and its various operations to generate a net positive operating position, it is anticipated that an investment of about $35million would be warranted; additional detailed design and engineering studies will be required in order to determine the actual costs of developing the project which will consideration of the archeological excavations and renovation/restoration of historic structures and facilities.


The study was supported by a group of public and private stakeholders including the City of Sacramento and the State of California’s Parks Department. In order to undertake the further development of the proposed project, as first step, it is recommended that a Task Force be formed which would be comprised of the stakeholders and other interested parties. The Task Force can serve to formalize the interactions between the parties and focus effort and action towards implementation. In the near term, the Task Force will need to address the following:

  • Needs for a General Plan for the State Park in Old Sacramento

  • Relative Roles and Responsibilities of the Stakeholders

  • The Enterprise Hotel Question

  • Project Delivery Options

Concerning the needs for a General Plan for the State Park in Old Sacramento, it has been learned that such a Plan will be required before any project-related work can be undertaken.

As to the relative roles and responsibilities of the Stakeholders, because the land comprising the 1849 Scene is owned by the State of California, a key role must be played by the State in outlining the terms and conditions for the incorporation of the visitor attraction in the overall Park Plan.

Because the Enterprise Hotel is currently vacant and has been the subject of some speculation as to its future, the opportunity to secure this facility as part of the overall visitor attraction project appears to be a prudent near term action which should be considered by members of the Task Force.

Finally, given the potential for the project to attract private investment and operations interest, the Task Force has the opportunity to formulate and carryout a Project Delivery approach which may be characterized as "Design-Build by Developer". In this type of Project Delivery Approach, which has been successfully utilized on numerous public projects including entertainment venues, a qualified developer is selected to undertake the design and construction of the project, including arranging financing, respecting the design and operational requirements of the public sector partner or partners. Prior to proceeding with this process, more detailed design, engineering and cost estimating work should be accomplished under the sponsorship of one or more of the stakeholders in the Task Force in order to more fully develop the concept and provide a firm basis with which to enter into negotiations with a selected developer team.