Amanda Klawitter, owner of House of Flowers on 19th Street, is a quintessential downtowner.
As a child, she spent her weekends and summers watching movies at the Nile Theater and visiting downtown hangouts like Chaos Coffee. Her grandparents owned Curiosity Antiques, where she would help out from time to time.
Today, she and her mother, Diana Klawitter, celebrate 10 years of doing business downtown. When I asked Amanda why she is so attracted to Downtown, she replied, “Downtown is the hub for all things progressive and new.”
Like House of Flowers, downtown Bakersfield has blossomed over the last 10 years.
The Padre Hotel, after undergoing extensive renovation and reopening in 2010, is still booming eight years later. Hotel Management projects that they will end this year with a dramatic Average Daily Rate increase over last year. No doubt, it serves as an anchor for downtown retailers and has proven that the residents of Bakersfield are interested in modern, interesting locales where they can meet with friends and coworkers.
For over a decade now, both public and private investments have contributed to the revitalization of the heart of our city.
The 18th and Eye parking structure, built in 1987, underwent a makeover in 2015 and is now turning a profit — with more daily users in the first quarter of the 2017-18 fiscal year than during the same period last year.
Mill Creek Linear Park, running along the Kern Island Canal for 1.5 miles, from Golden State Highway to California Avenue, opened in 2010 and was just recently recently named one of five great public spaces in America by the American Planning Association.
First Friday, after 10 years, continues to grow in both the number of vendors and attendees. The event has inspired a new monthly event, Second Saturday, that continues to grow each and every month. Both events help attract more visitors to downtown restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and other businesses.
And the newly constructed 17th Place Townhomes, 44 three-story luxury apartments located between 17th and 18th, and N and O streets, just opened in January of this year and are already fully leased with a growing wait list. The residents of the townhomes include people of all ages, races and marital statuses, and several have children — a strong indicator that people of all walks of life want to live downtown.
This positive growth has not come about by happenstance, but rather it is the result of a decade of public and private investments.
Today that spirit of community problem-solving continues. The City of Bakersfield and downtown stakeholders have worked to address issues related to safety, cleanliness and homelessness downtown.
During the last budget season, the City Council approved a proposal to spend federal grant dollars to fund three additional police officers for central Bakersfield.
Last month, over 150 Bakersfield residents joined Keep Bakersfield Beautiful board member John Enriquez for a downtown cleanup day.
And earlier this year former Mayor Harvey Hall donated $80,000 to fund the Downtown Street Ambassador program, led by the Bakersfield Homeless Center, Garden Pathways, Downtown Business Development Corp., the Downtown Business Association, and the Mission at Kern, which employs formerly homeless individuals to clean and beautify downtown streets.
With all of this momentum, we are doubling down on our efforts to cement downtown Bakersfield’s status as a destination to live, shop, dine, work, play and invest.
Earlier this year, during the Bakersfield City Council’s annual goal-setting session, the Council adopted a new goal to double the population of the downtown area, from 5,000 to 10,000 people, by 2030. According to the Bakersfield Housing Element, the city has a housing need of an additional 36,290 units by 2023 and can more easily accommodate that need with denser downtown development utilizing existing infrastructure.
In October 2017, the City approved a contract to conduct a comprehensive parking study in the downtown core. In collaboration with the Kern Council of Governments, the City of Bakersfield identified $50,000 in grant funding to complete a parking study to identify challenges and opportunities that may exist. The study is expected to be complete by mid-2018.
The City will receive $1,367,000 for the Downtown Bakersfield Bicycle Connectivity Project. The Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program grant will add 19 miles of new Class II bicycle lanes and Class III bicycle routes; installing 80 bicycle parking and storage racks; and establishing a bike share program with 20 to 25 stations for 100 smart bicycles.
The City will also receive $1,032,000 in Caltrans’ Active Transportation grant funds for the Downtown Bakersfield Pedestrian Connectivity Project, adding 128 sidewalk access ramps, construct 3,615 linear feet of sidewalks and improve a pedestrian island and median at Chester Avenue and 22nd Street.
And on Dec. 13, the City Council will consider adopting an ordinance to allow microbreweries and distilleries to exist in the downtown area. The hope is that microbreweries and distilleries will help attract more people to spend time downtown.
Downtown revitalization requires much more than a single project, event, or entity. A vibrant, energetic downtown requires lots of things to happen at the same time. From starting a small business like House of Flowers to participating in cleanup days and cultural events, or simply spending time and money at downtown retailers, we all have a part to play in the future revitalization of downtown. Let’s keep going!
Andrae Gonzales is a first-term Bakersfield City Councilman who represents Ward 2.