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Adventist names medical campus but hasn't decided whether it'll be a hospital

Adventist Health Bakersfield said Tuesday it's not quite sure what it will build — a hospital or something else health-care related — on vacant land it recently bought on the eastern side of Coffee Road north of Brimhall Road. But now at least the future development has a name: the Roth Family Campus.

Though still without a formal construction timetable, the project has been named after the owners of South Gate-based World Oil Corp., Steve and Robert "Bob" Roth, who in late December sold Adventist roughly 40 acres at the site for $11 million.

The name was among several details that emerged Tuesday during an event local dignitaries attended across the street from World Oil's long-delayed Bakersfield Commons mixed-use project.

One of the more noteworthy disclosures was that work on the Commons is expected to begin later this year, after the latest groundbreaking date was postponed in 2018. World Oil CEO and CFO Matthew Pakkala said six months of work on sewer installation and utility hook-ups will begin before the end of 2021.

It was also disclosed by Adventist President Daniel Wolcott that the company's new property along Coffee's eastern edge was valued at $27 million, more than twice the sale price. He said the Roths agreed to slash the purchase price by $16 million and turn the difference into a donation to Adventist, a not-for-profit chain based in Roseville with hospitals in Bakersfield, Delano, Tehachapi and elsewhere outside Kern.

Also notable was official word that Adventist's development will be developed independently from the Commons project, which has changed several times since it was originally proposed prior to 2010. The latest version calls for housing, offices, retail and entertainment across 220 acres.

Wolcott said it's possible construction will start on the health-care project before hammers start swinging on the opposite side of Coffee.

"They are completely independent" projects, he said.

In at least one respect they remain linked. Brad Cox, senior managing director at Dallas-based real estate company Trammell Crow Co., which is working with World Oil to develop The Commons, said news of Adventist's intentions heightens interest by prospective tenants considering setting up shop on the western side of Coffee.

Cox called the Adventist project "a huge catalyst for us" as the Commons works to enlist tenants and secure construction financing. He said the large number of people expected to work at the Adventist site will alone generate excitement.

But probably the biggest news out of the event was that the smaller property on Coffee's eastern side won't necessarily be a hospital. That contradicted an announcement made in September 2018 by former Adventist Health Bakersfield President Sharlet Briggs, who said a new hospital would be built at the site, starting in 2021, in order to alleviate crowding at the company's 254-bed medical center on Chester Avenue.

Wolcott, named to his position after Briggs resigned her position last summer, said Adventist learned during the pandemic that health care has changed in important ways. While people still need hospitals, he noted many have turned to virtual medicine in which patients can get medical attention over the internet in a virtual setting.

But what precisely that implies about the future of Adventist's new property was unclear.

"We have not made a final decision exactly what we're going to build on this property or exactly what that (timetable) will be," he said.

Bob Roth, for his part, described the Commons development as "a project whose time has come," even as he and other World Oil representatives provided no estimate Tuesday on when actual construction might begin.

"No more dilly-dallying," he said. "As I promised the mayor (of Bakersfield, Karen Goh) we're going to make this happen."

Editor's note: The story has been amended to clarify that the property's valuation was more than twice the sale price.