It’s only one shop, and a common one at that, but its identity says a lot about what's planned for 10 acres of vacant land at the southwest corner of White Lane and Buena Vista Road.
Starbucks has signed on as the first tenant of a neighborhood center, projected to open in about a year, that developer Bolthouse Properties expects will be joined by sit-down restaurants, maybe a boutique market and a variety of public spaces to draw in pedestrians from across the area.
People involved in the project say the lease accomplishes important goals for the 70,000-square-foot center tentatively dubbed Belcourt Village: It instills confidence, signals desirability and sets a casual, welcoming tone for the entire development.
"For us, Starbucks represents that quality tenant for our neighborhood center," said Bruce Davis, senior vice president of development at Bolthouse. "By starting with them, we're establishing the credibility for what we're trying to do with the center."
Bolthouse envisions the project as a critical asset to the surrounding neighborhood, which has grown substantially during the past year and a half with the construction of high-end housing at the southern reaches of Seven Oaks.
Unlike most shopping centers in the city, Belcourt Village is primarily seen as a pedestrian draw. It incorporates vehicle parking but also serves as a nexus of trails and walkways intended to invite nearby residents to get out of the house — ideally leaving their cars at home — to join friends for drinks, a meal and dessert, then linger at a bench or other landscaped amenity.
It's also one of a relatively few shopping options in a part of town with one of Bakersfield's wealthiest demographic profiles.
"The disposable income in that part of town is higher than most areas," said ASU Commercial principal Jeff Leggio, who serves as the brokerage and consulting firm's point person on Bolthouse projects.
No retail has yet been built to the west, he noted. But rather than fill in with as many and as large buildings as possible, Bolthouse has chosen to set aside room for common areas that will give neighbors somewhere to hang out, much like Castle & Cooke has done with its River Walk development mixing outdoor activities with retail options along Stockdale Highway.
"We're excited about it," he said, adding, "They're a very sophisticated, smart tenant" whose lease commitment tells prospective neighbors they can count on Belcourt to deliver the kind of customers they need to be financially successful at that location.
Starbucks is, at minimum, the development's "anchor draw," Davis said — not the Target-size tenant a larger center might need but a recognizable one that can serve as a springboard to launch the entire project.
He said leasing discussions continue with a number of other retailers, none of which are at a point where they can be announced. He said they include quality restaurants that would be paired with outside patios and dining areas, as well as neighborhood-serving shops selling soft goods.
Work remains to be finalized but Davis said the idea is to sign a small exercise center and a market that, at 18,000 square feet, would be the center's single-largest tenant.
"It's very ripe for a boutique market to come in," he said.
Don't look for the center to include a new nail salon, he said, or a dry cleaner. Both already exist at Bolthouse shopping centers nearby.
"We really try very hard not to put our tenants so they’re … competing against other tenants,” he said.
There will, however, be garden spaces, Davis said, plus grassy areas and public spaces for activities such as the throwing game cornhole. Instead of a typical layout with outward-facing parking on the periphery, cars will be concentrated near the interior.
"We're trying to create someplace that's a kind of place that you just want to go" and walk around, he said.