It's a vacant, centrally located property next to one of Bakersfield's busiest intersections, and yet no one seems quite sure what should be done with it.
Now it's up to the market to decide.
After years of extensive cleanup and remediation work southwest of Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Thursday put up for sale a nearly 47-acre property that for decades housed part of a petroleum-fueled power plant.
No sale price was listed, and when asked what might be the best reuse of the property, PG&E would only say "commercial." That could be any number of things, from stores to offices to entertainment.
Local commercial real estate people and city officials weren't much more specific. Some said retail, mini-storage or office development might be the highest and best use, though they asserted a hotel or even apartments might fit well there.
But the choice will be limited by several factors, not the least of which is a determination last year by the State Water Resources Control Board that prior soil contamination rules out anything other than commercial or industrial development on the site. So much for multi-family residential.
The board's ruling followed years of testing and soil removal work ordered after hydrocarbons were found left over from the power plant's operation between 1948 and 1985.
State records show PG&E excavated 4,786 cubic yards of dirt from 19 locations across a property measuring 140 acres, plus an additional 409 tons taken later from three other portions of the site. A board report noted the property "has been impacted" by an underground plume of contamination from a former refinery located nearby.
HIGHEST AND BEST
The conventional thinking has for years been that shopping and restaurants are probably the land's highest and best uses, especially considering the portion of the site listed for sale is frontage along two very busy corridors: Rosedale and Coffee.
Both of those potential uses appear in line with residential development to the east and retail to the north and east. But, in the near term at least, dine-in restaurants continue to struggle under pandemic restrictions and large retailers are trying to find their way in the world of e-commerce.
"Until a vaccine has been developed and (troubled retail and hotel) space has been absorbed from the pandemic shutdown, new development will be slow," Jeffrey Andrew, executive vice president at Bakersfield-based commercial real estate brokerage Pacific Commercial Realty Advisors, said by email Friday.
"However, the property is very well located and it will be a long-term development play," he continued, adding that industrial development at the property would be challenging because of the need for truck transportation in an area with already busy traffic.
'ALL OF THE ABOVE'
City Councilman Bob Smith, whose Ward 4 includes the property, noted the property is zoned for industrial uses and that any buyer looking to develop something different will need special approval from the city. That said, he asserted a hotel or mini-storage might make the most sense.
"To me it's kind of all of the above," Smith said, adding he was pleased to see PG&E clean up the property.
Appointed city officials declined to venture a guess Friday as to what the property's highest and best use might be.
"The city looks forward to the property being developed to its highest and best use and into another amenity for the residents of Bakersfield," city spokesman Joe Conroy said by email.
NO MASTER PLAN
Several years ago the city's approach was to encourage PG&E to undertake a master-planned development, such as was done by the owner of a large, vacant property to the immediate south. That development, a phased, mixed-use project known as Bakersfield Commons, has been proposed to include offices, residential, entertainment and health care. It has faced repeated delays and still has not begun construction.
PG&E, which is not generally a commercial developer, did not proceed with a master plan. It's important to note that the San Francisco-based utility intends to continue operating a substation and switchyard on portions of the site that are not for sale. Also, oil wells owned and operated by third parties occupy land on the former power plant site but not on the property listed for sale.
The broker representing PG&E on the proposed sale, Garret Tuckness of Colliers International, said the property has already sparked inquiries from potential buyers.
Tuckness said the property will likely end up a phased, mixed-use project that could involved shopping, food, retail and maybe some office or medical uses.
He agreed with Andrew's assessment that the property is a long-term project benefiting from a great location.
"It really just depends on who shows up to buy the land,” he said. "It’s right in the heart of the northwest” part of Bakersfield.
For its part, PG&E called the sale listing part of a long process intended to satisfy local stakeholders.
"This is a significant step toward completing our commitment to ensure the corner of the property is redeveloped in the best interest of the community," spokeswoman Katie Allen wrote in an email.