The traditional approach wasn’t going to work for 260 acres of vacant land at Brimhall and Coffee roads.
There were already a lot of big stores nearby and adding to their numbers wouldn’t necessarily complement the landowner’s wishes for a mixed-use project with offices and residences.
The bigger challenge, and the principle helping guide the project dubbed Bakersfield Commons, came from a fundamental shift in the retail world.
People don’t generally shop like they used to. They wander the aisles less. In many cases, they’ve already done their shopping while stretched out on the couch. Orders arrive on the front step in two days or fewer.
What, then, do people look for in a shopping center these days?
They seek an experience, said Jacqui Kitchen, who has watched the Commons situation as Bakersfield’s community development director.
Shoppers these days go into a store knowing what they want to buy ahead of time. They’re there to meet friends, take in a movie, maybe go to the spa, she said — something more than just find a product and leave.
Kitchen pointed to another difference between landowner World Oil Corp.’s development plans and the approach that almost surely would have been taken in years past. The Commons is not designed to attract people from across the region so much as it is geared toward its more immediate neighbors. Think bicycle trails, shaded paths, cafes and gathering places such as fountains where people can plan to meet and hang out.
Here’s how Kitchen said this is probably going to play out at the Commons: There may well be a movie theater, a specialized sporting goods and clothing store, a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and a high-end, organic grocer.
And Top Golf. Imagine a mix between golfing and bowling, where friends gather to whack balls at targets while enjoying food and drinks. That’s Top Golf.
The Commons won’t just be retail and entertainment. In October, World Oil announced there will be a 200-bed medical center, 280,000 square feet of light industrial facilities and 400,000 square feet of office, as well as apartment units, senior housing and homes. Construction is supposed to begin in 2018.
Don’t expect the development, or others like it around the country, to completely replace the traditional retail experience, Kitchen said. Some people still want to touch and feel goods before they buy them. There will probably always be opportunities for them to do so.
At the same time, Kitchen said the city has an interest in embracing retail trends that reflect new realities.
“We want to see innovative designs,” she said. “The city needs to do what it can to support the evolution of retail.”
The city also wants the Commons’ developer, Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co., to keep the project’s offerings affordable while at the same time delivering the quality Bakersfield expects.
“That’s a hard thing to do, to walk that line,” she said. “I hope they can figure it out — make it nice but keep it affordable.”
Trammell Crow’s senior associate on the project, Abbey Ehman, assured shoppers in an October news release the Commons will have “outstanding amenity areas,” with parks and pedestrian pathways. She added it will be “thoughtfully designed in line with World Oil and TCC’s commitment to sustainability and wellness.”