padre rain

In this file photo, motorists travel along H Street at 18th Street on a wet Saturday evening in downtown Bakersfield.

For optimum deliciousness, meals should be cooked just right. A couple of minutes too long in a toaster and bread turns carcinogenic. We encounter the concept of timing hundreds of moments each day. It is especially important in business. Most know to buy a stock when the price is low and sell when the price is high. Don’t ask for a raise when the company is about to go bankrupt. In most areas of our lives, daily tasks and big decisions, timing is everything.

Top entrepreneurs execute at the right time. They seem to have a supernatural instinct about outside forces and trends, understanding just before the rest of us when is the perfect time to create a new product, offer a new service, enter a new line of business or close an existing one. They say being a little early is OK, but being late is a disaster. Ideas cobbled together at the right moment, fueled by big dreams and hard work, coalesced into pioneering movements like Lyft, Lululemon, Stripe, Starbucks, Minted, Drybar, Instagram and WeWork.

Bill Gross from IdeaLabs gave a popular TED Talk about "timing" being the single biggest reason for startup success. Many entrepreneurs feel that this means success and failure in business is significantly based on luck. This isn't really the case. It’s all about recognizing when the time has come to shift focus.

The same concept applies to our downtown. In last week’s Californian, Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters wrote that the time is decidedly out for redevelopment, which some might think spells disaster for downtown. This program of state and federal statutes gave cities and counties the ability to establish redevelopment agencies to attack urban decay. Agencies were given significant authority to acquire real property and use the power of eminent domain to develop and sell property, without bidding, and relocate property owners. It had a positive impact kickstarting revitalization in many downtowns. There were many abuses, but good projects came from the program.

As Walters wrote, the concept came to a screeching halt seven years ago when the Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown abolished redevelopment.

And, honestly, I would argue that we don’t need it. Our downtown can make it on its own with market-based, private-sector investment. Through redevelopment and public sector projects, impactful investments have been made. Groups and nonprofits should continue efforts to push for quality-of-life improvements, but the focus has shifted solely to the private sector.

Last week, my husband, Austin, was asked to speak about downtown to a group of more then 300 of the most engaged community leaders and business owners gathered for the Institute of Real Estate Management's Real Estate Forecast Breakfast.

It’s a sign of downtown’s progress that he was asked to speak about it. In the past, downtown was not seen as viable because of its vacant buildings, limited parking and distance from new housing. But the old perception of downtown is rapidly changing. This shift bodes well for our entire city's ability to grow and thrive.

We live in a digital age where convenience and online interactions dominate. A glossy Internet veneer makes the hunger for authenticity and tangible connections even greater. Downtowns, with all their place character and history, density and culture, provide this.

Downtown is the civic front door for residents and newcomers. It’s the welcome mat for visitors. It’s the Saturday night out for residents living all over our city. It’s a home base for a growing number of businesses. It’s the innovative, creative and cultural hub. More public art projects, plays, concerts and symphony productions happen downtown. It’s the recreational destination for festivals, holiday parades and sports events. It affects the lives of people living all over the city like no other real estate.

It’s the destination of many daily commutes, since it serves as a huge job center. More than 25,000 people work downtown on a daily basis, according to Kern Council of Governments. It has the highest concentration of restaurants with more than 70 downtown. Our downtown saw a healthy number of new businesses open in 2018 — 120, according to data from the City of Bakersfield. Downtown hotels (The Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center and The Padre) have the highest occupancy and room rates of anywhere in town. The Padre's occupancy rate of 75 percent to 80 percent exceeds the industry standard of 65 percent. New, market-rate, multi-family housing downtown has the highest rents in town. Downtown's "Walk Scores," which measure an areas's pedestrian friendliness, are the highest in Bakersfield.

Downtowns in mid-sized cities are the leading role in a huge migratory trend across the country. “After investment in parks and greenspace, homegrown tech hubs and downtown redevelopment, many small and mid-size metros are seeing more signs of life and increased migration,” according to a recent Brookings Institution analysis of U.S. Census data. “This comes at a time when larger superstar cities are seeing slower population growth and an uptick in domestic out-migration.”

Patrick Sisson from Curbed reported on U.S. Census data: “Mid- or second-tier cities, loosely defined as those under a million people ... are increasingly seen as not just places to find a lower cost of living, easier commute and closer connections with family, but also a more approachable, neighborhood-oriented version of the urban lifestyle that sent many to the larger cities in the first place.”

The story of our own downtown fits neatly within this narrative.

All signs point to growth and success for our downtown. We are living at an exciting time in the story of our city. Downtown is circling back to its origins when it thrived as a center of commerce, entertainment and trade. It can now stand on its own without government-assisted redevelopment. Not only will our community benefit from new restaurants, offices and housing downtown, so, too, will those who have the foresight to see now as the time to invest their talents and treasure in the future of our city.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at The opinions expressed are her own.

(11) comments


I love Downtown! We stayed at the Padre this past Saturday night (on a free room, won from a previous great night spent there with a couple out-of -town friends). It's not uncommon for us to bounce around between the Padre, Fox Theater, Sandrini's and Crash Lounge, but we are almost always out of there relatively early and never feel unsafe. This time, though, we walked from the Padre to KC Steakhouse. Nice, short walk, and it was early, but next time I'll call the $6 Uber. Cant say we felt personally threatened exactly, but in retrospect, I'd be pissed if my adult kids risked that walk. It's dark, its quiet, you walk past tweakers and who knows what else, it just doesn't feel safe. If you venture beyond (and you should!) the few square blocks I describe above, take an Uber, have a DD, or something.


I am sure the writer, like many people (including myself) would be thrilled if Chester Avenue became a three or four block area of great shops and restaurants, and possibly a high end boutique hotel. But to sustain that, the city would need a lot of visitors who have no connection to the city. (It’s good to also have visitors with connections, but they are more likely to stay and eat with relatives/friends rather than patronize hotels/restaurants.) That in lies the problem. Until we have something that attracts a large number of tourists, a Santa Barbara-like or SLO-like downtown area is not very practical. Those types of establishments need customers every day, and most residents (even in a high-income city) are busy with work and “regular life”. That is why tourism is so vital. We need to develop reasons for people to come here - an important museum, a truly amazing historical site, a sports team, etc


Was downtown ever alive enough to revive ? The homeless took over downtown years ago I have walked twice daily through downtown holding my nose most of the time from the stench. I Wondered if there were any law enforcement doing anything except drive through, the only place I have seen that has any life is the the Padre after work hours

She Dee

@Ed- My 1st "contact" with the downtown area came when I moved to Kern Co in 1969. We had a Brock's Department Store, Vest's Drug's, Alan Kern's Pawn, Harland's House of Music, Pete Jone's Music & people paid their bills by walking into the Utility Companies that were all within walking distance. I think having everything in one small area served as a magnet for shoppers into the area. We also had the Downtown Business Association with over-seers such as Cathy Butler & some rules that some of us liked & some of us did not. The Padre was fine when Milton Miller was there. We had the Alley Cat, Suds Tavern, The Casablanca, The Brown Cellar & other bars/clubs, whose names escape me as I write this. It had a purpose in the daytime hours that were very different in the nighttime hours. Stores closed early in those days. We had many old Hotels & thrift shops where many of the old-timers hung out & lived. We did not have a lot of Tattoo Parlors in those days. I only remember one close to the Wall St Alley. I don't like what the new owners have done to the Padre. It reeks of disrespect for the original meaning behind the design of the building, in my opinion. I realize things change & B-Town will always have a special meaning in my heart, but I don't like the "new" Bakersfield. It seems to lack substance & the energy has gone to sleep with the people who have taken over just to make a profit without any regard whatsoever of the true meaning of the downtown area. We had beat cops walking around who we all knew by name & there was very little trouble because they were helpful & understanding of the era, as well as the substances most of us were using in those days. Drunk in Public was not as much of a crime as it is today. Just sayin'!

She Dee

After reading this article, I am left wondering if the writer has 1st hand life experience owning & running a business. How many years was the Downtown area just a dead zone with empty storefronts & cool dive bars? Now it's full of what? Why start the article with the burnt toast remark...when she could have just spoken the truth about the Downtown Business District. I see the fancy Jam is not able to cover up the stench of the area. So it's just a puff piece from a novice writer. Great. I hope it gets better with time...perhaps the yeast will turn it into grog.


I wholeheartedly agree! Downtown Bakersfield is the past and future of our city and momentum is continually growing to fuel its transformation.
Thanks for this thoughtful piece.


Kudos to Anna Smith! The Californian needs more like this!

Concerned Citizen of Bakersfield

After further review, I think it is very clear that you are the dumbest person to ever write for TBC




Your comment is neither helpful or informed. What exactly do you disagree with about Anna's article?

She Dee

I wouldn't go so far as to say she was "...the dumbest person to ever write for TBC", but I suspect her research into the area just did not go far enough back in time to realize the true history of the downtown area & what it actually designed to do & how it was fueled by underground illegal activity, drugs, prostitution, money laundering & a whole host of other "corrupt" things that the world has now lost.

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