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Bitwise keeps on track even as pandemic leaves project timing unclear

Preparations for a new computer tech hub in downtown Bakersfield are proceeding more or less on schedule despite the coronavirus crisis. But it's almost impossible to predict exactly when it will open.

Fresno-based owner Bitwise Industries had been hoping to launch the shared office space, software development center and computer coding academy as soon as this summer. And there's still a chance the space being redeveloped for those uses at the southwest corner of 18th and H streets will be operational this fall.

As anxious as the company is to get the project up and running, however, Bitwise co-founder and CEO Jake Soberal emphasized it will be left for public health authorities to decide when it's safe to throw open the doors.

That's no reflection of reduced demand for the services expected to be available at the site, he said.

Not only have calls from potential tenants continued to come in regularly, Soberal said, but mass layoffs resulting from California's March 19 stay-home order make Bitwise's job-training activities even more urgent.

"Bitwise is absolutely undeterred in its intention to do something wonderful in and with Bakersfield,” he said.

Work on the downtown building's plumbing, framing and structural elements has largely tracked the original timetable, he said, adding the project is "maybe our smoothest project we’ve ever done, knock on wood.”

"It's really encouraging that Bakersfield isn’t just willing," he said. "It’s also ready and able."

Project manager Josh Slayton, with Bakersfield's Wallace & Smith Contractors, agreed that workers are making good progress at the construction site.

Attention has turned to the building's first-story walls as crews continue to fix up the structure's electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, he said.

Meanwhile, workers are respecting social distancing guidelines and no one has had to be pulled off the job because of COVID-19, he said.

"We're as responsible as possible," he said.

Bitwise is also taking the quarantine as an opportunity to help host an online event titled "No Place Like Home: Virtual Culture Fest."

Set for 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 23, the festival will feature presentations and entertainment by an extensive lineup of DJs, performers businesses.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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