Vacant commercial buildings get new lease on life

Vacant commercial buildings get new lease on life »Play Video
The shuttered Circuit City is seen on California Avenue in Bakersfield. A new tenant is likely moving into the space, according to its leasing agent.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Signs of the poor economy are easy to spot in Kern County, namely vacant commercial buildings waiting to be leased.

In the past two years, Bakersfield has seen its share of businesses and retailers close shop. Some of the biggest include Mervyn's, Comp USA, and Circuit City.

"That was a big company," Bakersfield resident Tami Wilson said about Comp USA. "For them to close their doors and leave that was scary."

While the vacancies can leave residents feeling empty, Richard Chapman, CEO of Kern Economic Development Corporation, said there is reason for hope. "Kern County is projected to be the first county in the state to emerge from the recession."

Chapman explained why that would happen.

"In California, (Kern County is) an affordable community to live in," he said. "Plus, the access."

With businesses returning to Kern County, Chapman said they have to set up shop somewhere and instead of constructing a new building they're looking at moving into vacant retail establishments.

One of the perfect examples of that growth can be found at the Northwest Promenade where the old Linens-N-Things is now Dick's Sporting Goods.

That has residents like Wilson feeling optimistic.

"I don't know anything about Dick's Sporting Goods," she said, "but it seems like they're big enough that they could strive and bring more business."

The trend is continuing.

A vacancy that will soon be filled is the old Circuit City building on California Avenue. Even though Brian Baker, the representative who is leasing the building, can't yet say who is moving in, residents, such as Pat Cowles, are just glad someone is.

"I feel fairly optimistic that if we can just be patient that it'll get better," she said.

However, that optimism comes with a bit of caution.

"Maybe it's turning around," said Bakersfield resident James Copeland. "I hope it is, because I've always had hope for Bakersfield. There just needs to be more (businesses coming in) and they need to last. They need to stay."

KEDC CEO Chapman added that "retail following rooftops" is the key to sustaining growth, because the more people who move into the area means more retail and office spaces will be needed.