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Carousel Mall, Measure A among the major business stories in the Inland Empire in 2023

In San Bernardino, 2023 might be remembered as the year the Carousel Mall and a wrecking ball finally got together.

Interior gutting and stripping of the abandoned downtown property started in February, nearly six years after the mall shut down for good following years of dwindling crowds, lost tenants, and multiple attempts to revive what was once a successful shopping destination.

As of early December, demolition of the entire mall – which opened as the Central City Mall in 1972 – was complete, according to Jeff Krause, city spokesman.

Once the last retaining walls were removed, the 45-year-old shopping center was mostly a pile of rubble, although work crews will remain on site for several months performing cleanup tasks, including removing rebar and looking for anything that can be recycled.

In March, the state of California filed a lawsuit claiming that the city’s plans to restore the 43-acre downtown site violated state regulations.

That matter was resolved, but it did rupture San Bernardino’s development agreement with Renaissance Downtown USA and ICO Real Estate Group, which had planned to level the mall and replace it with a residential, office, and retail complex.

Restoring the Carousel Mall property remains the major element in the city’s efforts to its restore its downtown. As 2023 draws to a close, the city has yet to begin searching for a developer to replace Renaissance Downtown USA, Kraus said.

Much to the delight of San Bernardino County – and Rancho Cucamonga – the long-anticipated Brightline West high-speed rail project got a major boost from the Biden Administration this month when it announced it will allot $3 billion toward the project.

That money will help pay for the 200-mph electric rail service between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, where one of the project’s stations will be located.

One of the most ambitious transportation projects in the history of Southern California, Brightline is expected to create more than 11,000 jobs and create $5 billion in spending, according to one estimate.

Construction on the $12 billion project could start in 2024.

In Perris, a proposed tax on warehouses received more yes votes than no votes, but it did not receive the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

Measure A would have established a 30-year business tax on logistics and other industrial facilities to pay for the damage those facilities do to Perris’ streets and roads. Ten point seven cents per square foot, with annual adjustments based on the consumer price index.

Had it passed, Measure A was expected to raise about $4 million a year to upgrade and repair Perris’ public roads. That included truck routes as well as collector and arterial streets.

Ultimately, Measure A received only 52.1 percent of the vote.

Riverside scored a major “get” in November when it completed an agreement with Ohmio, a New Zealand-based company that produces all-electric autonomous shuttle vehicles.

That agreement calls for Ohmio to move its international headquarters to Riverside, where it will manufacture its vehicles, according to a statement.

Ohmio will also move its research and development operation to Riverside and designate the city its point of sale, which will give Riverside a percentage of sales tax.

Riverside will spend $2.5 million to move Ohmio. The city will also lease or purchase three shuttles that will be tested in Riverside during a 24-month pilot program, according to the statement.

UC Riverside’s Center for Economic Forecasting and Development ceased operations in the spring of 2023 after questions were raised regarding its relationship with a Los Angeles-based economic consulting firm.

Beacon Economics in Los Angeles ran the center – which was part of the university’s business school – since the center opened in 2015. Beacon’s contract with the university expired at the end of 2022 and was not renewed after questions were raised regarding the relationship between the two entities.

In a letter, graduate students and faculty asked the university to determine whether it was acceptable for UC Riverside’s name and trademark to be placed on reports produced by a private company.

Specifically, the letter questions a Beacon report on AB-57, which became law in California in September 2022. That bill sought to improve the wages and working conditions of fast-food workers.

Corporations were using the reports to advance their interests, according to the critics.

“There are a lot of things wrong with it, but the biggest [problem] is the lack of faculty oversight,” said Dylan Rodriguez, a professor of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside one of the letter’s signees, in February. “There has to be some academic review, but in this case there’s none.”

Beacon founder Chris Thornberg denied any wrongdoing. The center’s long-term future remains in question.

The Riverside City Council took a major step in 2023 when it approved cannabis businesses in the city.

With a 5-2 vote in February, the council agreed to allow the permitted sale of marijuana, reversing the city’s previous policy that only allowed cannabis testing laboratories within the city’s borders, according to a city statement.

Legal cannabis businesses include storefront retail, manufacturing/distribution businesses, and testing laboratories. Permits would be valid for one year.

Storefront businesses are allowed to make deliveries, but delivery-only businesses are prohibited, as are micro-businesses and businesses that cultivate cannabis.

The ordinance allows for up to 14 permits for storefront retail, with no limits on permits for manufacturing/distribution businesses or testing laboratories, according to the statement.

Next March, Riverside voters will decide whether to tax those operations.

The program approved by the council, including next spring’s ballot measure, will cost about $385,000. Annual business taxes would raise $1 million to $1.5 million annually, while sales taxes would generate least $250,000 to $500,000 every year, according to the statement.

The Manufacturer’s Council of the Inland Empire and the High Desert Manufacturers Council merged in 2023.

In August, both agencies adopted an agreement “formalizing a long history of collaboration as the voice for the [Inland] region’s manufacturers,” according to a statement released by both entities in September.

The High Desert Council agreed to continue designing programming for that market, and the Inland Empire group will assist in marketing and programming.

The new organization will serve a 27,000-square-mile area that contains more than 3,700 manufacturers.

In Montclair, grading began early in the year at the northwest corner of Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue, the former site of one of the last drive-in theaters in California.

The Mission and Ramona Business Park is being developed on 27.7 acres that, until last January, was home to the four-screen Mission Tiki Drive-In. The theater will be replaced by an eight-building light manufacturing/warehouse distribution project.

The theater’s demise, which was years in the making, left only 15 operating drive-in theaters, according to driveinmovie.com.

Its departure also ended an era in Montclair.

“It’s been there for years, and over time it became more than a drive-in theater,” said Tenice Johnson, Montclair city council member and a Montclair Chamber of Commerce board member, in May.  “I don’t like that it’s going away. I would rather see retail there, but I understand that the property owner has a right to develop that land however it wants to.”

In August, Ontario announced plans to build a nearly 200-acre, regional sports facility that would include a minor league baseball stadium, restaurants, and other amenities.

The Ontario Regional Sports Complex would attract about 1.2 million visitors per year, create more than 600 full-time jobs, and generate more than $61 million in annual spending and $1.5 million in tax revenues, according to a statement released by the city.

If approved, the complex will be located on the south side of East Riverside Drive, across from Whispering Lakes Golf Course.

Ontario plans to buy that property and possibly start construction next year. The city hopes to lure the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, a Dodgers’ affiliate, to the new facility, something Rancho Cucamonga officials have said they will not let happen.

In November, small business owners got a place to go to for help when the Entrepreneurial Resource Center opened in downtown San Bernardino.

The resource center, which takes up the fifth floor of a building at 330 N D St. is operated by the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship, which is part of the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration at Cal State San Bernardino.

The resource center – a partnership between San Bernardino and the university – puts under one roof support programs and organizations meant to help small businesses get started. That help will include training, technical assistance and advice on how to secure financing and deal with regulations.

Combined, the city and the university have invested nearly $4 million in the project. The university is scheduled to a open resource center next month in Temecula.

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