The Rio Bravo valley of east Bakersfield is getting a shopping center, the underserved area’s first major commercial development.
Countryside Construction broke ground this week on a shopping area at the southwest corner of Highway 178 and Comanche Drive. The center, which will be called Countryside Village, will consist of six buildings and about 43,000 square feet of retail space.
“The goal here is to make it a lifestyle center for the community,” said Rick Jhaj, chief development officer for Countryside Corp., the developer of the project. “The people who live there don’t really have anywhere close to go. You have to go 5 or 6 miles to get to the nearest store.”
Jhaj knows personally how people the surrounding communities feel. He used to live in the Tuscany community, he said, and had to deal with the same problem.
“I would always say, ‘Man, we need some place to stop at,’” he said.
Jhaj said that while residential development in the area has grown exponentially over the last decade, commercial development has taken a long time to catch up because he believes some developers are hesitant to build in rural areas. However, Jhaj said, that isn’t the case for Countryside Corp., a Bakersfield business.
“We live and breathe Bakersfield,” he said. “We know this area and we know that it’s needed.”
The first phase of construction, two buildings expected to be completed by July, will include a Taco Bell, the first tenant to sign on, as well as a Countryside Market and Restaurant, which comes with a Shell gas station and a Subway inside the store.
Jhaj said he hopes to also see a coffee shop, pharmacy, salon, and a gym to help fill out the remaining four buildings. Jhaj said the No. 1 request from residents in the area is a grocery store, one of the top priorities for the project.
Jhaj said several businesses have expressed interest in the four buildings available for lease. Jhaj didn’t name them because said no contracts have been finalized yet. Jhaj said the company isn’t in a rush to fill the available spaces.
“We’re trying to be selective,” he said. “We want to bring in quality tenants, so we’re trying to take our time to make sure they’re the right fit for the area.”
Jhaj said he hopes the second phase of the project, another two buildings, will be completed by the end of the year but may have to be extended into 2019. The third phase, the last two buildings, is expected to be completed in 2019.
Bakersfield City Councilman Ken Weir, who represents that area of town, said he hopes the center will convince other developers to consider commercial property in the area.
“Ever since I got on the City Council, I’ve been trying to get development in that area,” he said. “This is the spark that’s going to lead the way in services for that area. It’s long-needed and well overdue. I know that every resident out there is looking for a shopping center and a grocery store.”
Weir said that now that there are more people living in the Rio Bravo area and the economy has improved, the area is beginning to get more attention from developers.
“We’ve had to be patient,” he said. “It’s been a difficult time, but now the time is right. Interest is piquing. We need to get good people out there to add to the development and beauty of that part of town.”
Jhaj said that with work on the project finally starting, he’s looking forward to seeing the center develop over time.
“We’re really excited. I have wanted to develop this area for the past five or six years,” he said. We’re trying to meet the needs for daily services in the community. The convenience we can provide to the community is the most important thing for us.”