Carousel Mall isn’t the only thing San Bernardino is trying to fix.
Now it’s taking aim at an upgrading and rebranding of its downtown.
Late last month, the city posted “a set of initiatives, programs, and investments intended to revitalize its downtown area” on its city’s website.
The website list has 19 items, some of which will take years to reach the city council for a vote if they get there at all.
Still, the proposed projects – which were the subject of a special city council workshop on June 30 – show how much commercial potential there is in downtown San Bernardino, which is bordered by Union Street on the north, San Manuel Stadium [south] Sierra Way [east] and Interstate 215 [west].
“Downtown San Bernardino is already a huge economic driver for our City,” said Interim City Manager Charles McNeely in the website posting. “It has the potential to bring many more jobs, much more housing, and significantly more economic activity than there currently is.”
San Bernardino wants to do what every city wants to do with its downtown: attract investment, create jobs and, over time, expand economic activity. Its next move is to decide what projects should be pursued, in what order, and how to finance them.
That process will take some time.
“It’s an ambitious plan, and that’s good,” Sanchez said. ”San Bernardino deserves to have a world-class downtown, but there’s a lot going with that list. It goes all over the place, and it’s not clear where we’d get the money to pay for a lot of it.”
The proposed projects include:
* Creating a partnership of downtown businesses and property owners, a practice known as a downtown business and public improvement district. That model has been the catalyst for downtown revitalizations throughout California, including Riverside, Corona, Pomona, Long Beach, and San Jose.
* Developing a satellite campus;
* Restoring and upgrading several downtown properties owned by the city, including the Regal Cinema Plaza, the Convention Center, and San Manuel Stadium, home of the Inland Empire 66ers. Several E Street retail sites, and the former Woolworth Building, are also listed for a possible upgrade.
* Conduct an engineering study to help determine the next step in the restoration of the city hall. The building at 290 N. D. St. closed in the spring of 2017 after a study found that it probably would not survive a major earthquake.
City offices and departments are scattered throughout several downtown buildings, and San Bernardino officials have said they would like to move back in, but a renovation would reportedly cost $80 million and take at least four years to complete.
* Determine whether Court Street between D and E streets will work as a pedestrian walkway. If it does, that strip could be used for farmer’s markets, arts and crafts shows, food fairs, and other neighborhood events;
* Hire more police officers to “create a permanent downtown quality of life team” that will address issues specific to downtown.
* Revive several city-owned properties, including the Regal Cinema Plaza, the Convention Center, San Manuel Stadium, the former Woolworth building, and some retail sites on E Street.
* Renovate the historic California Theater, at an estimated cost of $2.5 million;
* San Bernardino’s downtown restoration efforts got a boost from the county last fall when the board of supervisors announced plans to develop a 307,000-square-foot building at Arrowhead Avenue and 4th Street near the county courthouse.
That project, which county officials hope to have ready by 2028, will replace three buildings in other parts of the city the county is using now.
“They’re going to consolidate their operations, and we’re looking forward to that,” Sanchez said. “It’s going to bring more people downtown.”
One proposed downtown improvement proposal has already been decided.
The city council on July 1 voted to partner Cal State San Bernardino’s Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship to form an Entrepreneurial Resource Center, which will help start-up businesses survive their first year or two in operation.
That program will operate out of office space at 330 N. D St., across from the empty city hall, and it could be up and running within two months, said Jeff Kraus, city spokesman.
That it could take 10 years or more for San Bernardino to get the downtown it wants should not surprise. Reviving any downtown has never been easy, and it could be more difficult to do now than it’s ever been.
There are financial constraints, it’s difficult to get all parties to agree on what to do, and developers and retailers are sometimes reluctant to go into an area that hasn’t had some recent commercial success.
Today, the task has been made harder by the changes caused by the pandemic, primarily people leaving the office and working out of the house. That trend has forced cities to rethink how much office space, a centerpiece of any downtown – to include in their revitalization plans.
“Residential – condominiums, townhouses, apartments – are still popular in downtown areas, and that’s fortunate for San Bernardino because we have a lot of space for residential in our downtown,” Kraus said. “The Carousel Mall redevelopment by itself is going to have a lot of residential. Not many cities have 46 acres in their downtown that can be redeveloped.”
Downtowns began to decline after World War II, when people migrated to the suburbs, according to a study released three years ago by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. that specializes in government and public policy research,
A similar pattern appeared to have started with the pandemic, but that trend didn’t last.
“Downtowns have been increasingly attractive for the last few decades,” the report states. “Considering how well cities bounced back from prior health scares, we believe downtowns have enough momentum to weather the coronavirus crisis.”
Regardless of what projects it decides to pursue, and what timeline it selects for developing them, San Bernardino’s first priority in its downtown restoration will always be Carousel Mall.