The area of downtown Bakersfield that lies east of Chester Avenue is undergoing a resurgence of sorts.
More businesses are choosing to locate in an area of downtown that has historically seen fewer businesses than the stronger west side, where the Padre Hotel commands a magnetic presence. But with at least eight new businesses opening in the area just this year alone, the east side of downtown may be undergoing a similar transformation.
“There’s definitely a lot more activity east of Chester now,” said Downtown Business Association President/CEO Melanie Farmer. “It’s good to see Bakersfield expanding. It’s very encouraging.”
City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, who represents the downtown area, says the growth hasn't escaped his notice.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. “A lot of places have opened up. Cafe Smitten has been a huge success and has spurred a lot of interest in 18th Street. Many of the restaurants that are well-established in the area like Mexicali and Goose Loonies continue to do well. If you have quality, then the customers will keep coming back.”
One of the newest businesses to open east of Chester — not to be confused with Old Town Kern, which is farther east — is the Redzone Sports Bar and Grill. Owner Randy Hoffman opened the restaurant, located on Truxtun Avenue across from the Marriott Hotel and Rabobank Arena, on Wednesday. Hoffman said the business offers 27 televisions for people to watch games.
“It’s a good location where we’re at, with the Rabobank Arena nearby,” he said. “People that work down here will have another place to go.”
Hoffman said the restaurant has already gotten a good amount of interest. And he’s happy to see that east-of-Chester is growing, even if that means a little more competition.
“It’s nice to see a lot of restaurants come in,” he said.
Jim Katsantonis, owner of Goose Loonies Tavern and Grill (also known as The Goose Bar and Grill), said east-of-Chester has changed a lot over the years. He said the area felt empty and run down for a long time.
However, as more businesses trickled into the area and more amenities became available such as the park at Mill Creek, Katsantonis said the area began to improve.
“It’s exciting to see people finding more reasons, new reasons to come here,” he said. “I think the area will continue to quietly grow.”
Katsantonis said he believes there are a few reasons why businesses are settling in east of Chester. Some businesses are drawn to the area because it has more available space with rents that are often cheaper than the west side.
He also believes new housing developments in the area, such as the 17th Place Townhomes, are bringing more foot traffic into the eastern side of downtown.
“It’s exciting to see residential growth in the area, which has been very dormant,” Katsantonis said.
The 17th Place Townhomes residences are intended for middle-to-high income earners, but Katsantonis said he believes there is room downtown for the development of more affordable housing.
“There should be something for everyone,” he said. “I feel that as our population grows, that’s what’s needed in downtown.”
Katsantonis said developers should be careful to make sure not all housing downtown caters to those with the most income.
“Then gentrification would happen,” he said, referring to the phenomenon in which investors move into a lower-income area, make improvements and raise rents, resulting in other consequences. “I don’t really see that happening, though.”
While Katsantonis wants to see downtown Bakersfield grow, he said he hopes to see different kinds of restaurants and other businesses open up.
“I’m concerned that we have too many similar types of businesses downtown,” he said. “We’re now at a point where there’s a saturation of restaurants and bars. We need more diversity. Not everything should be turned into a restaurant or a bar.”
Katsantonis said that with downtown housing becoming a bigger focal point, stores that sell fresh groceries needs to be a priority.
Leonard Lomas, manager at Mexicali Restaurants, said new development on the east side provides a sense of safety to consumers, which he said is an important factor.
“It’s become a nicer area that you can feel safe around, visit and just enjoy the day,” he said. “It’s been nice seeing the new housing coming in and bringing more business to the area. We’re very fortunate and blessed.”
Councilman Gonzales said downtown growth built on new housing and business is one of his biggest priorities.
“The reality is that more and more people throughout Bakersfield want to spend time downtown,” he said. “Housing really is a catalyst for downtown revitalization, and that’s something I continue to promote. It’s an exciting time for all of downtown.”