BY JASON KOTOWSKI AND JOHN COX Californian staff writers email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Start flexing your bargaining muscles and get that "emergencies only" credit card out of storage. If Tejon Ranch Co. succeeds, an outlet center will become a reality at the base of the Grapevine.
A projected two-phase plan including 500,000 square feet of leasable space and more than a half-mile of frontage along Interstate 5 is being discussed.
Barry Zoeller, Tejon's vice president of corporate communications and marketing, said the company began exploring the prospect 18 months ago and has been in talks with retailers.
Zoeller said he can't disclose which retailers he's talked to, but said "they're the ones you traditionally see" at outlets.
"They believe, as we do, that Bakersfield is underserved when it comes to retail and that consumers here would certainly welcome having a retail center," he said Friday.
While the prospect is exciting for many Kern County residents, Zoeller cautioned that much more needs to be done and Tejon Ranch has not and will not make an official announcement until it can give a date for the project's groundbreaking.
The idea of an outlet center by the Grapevine was first disclosed publicly as a brief mention in Tejon Ranch's first-quarter earnings report May 4. "We are currently evaluating and performing due diligence related to the viability of an outlet center within (the eastern portion of the company's commercial center) to expand our retail product offerings within that development," the statement read.
The project won't have a lot of governmental hoops to jump through, either. Zoeller said the project is within the plan for the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center, which was approved several years ago, and now they simply have to go before the Kern County Planning Department for site approval.
Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt confirmed that. No public hearings or further approvals are needed.
"All they need is to go through the building plan check," Oviatt said.
Duane A. Keathley, senior vice president at brokerage CB Richard Ellis, said he doesn't think there would be much competition between an outlet mall and local retailers in Bakersfield. An outlet mall, he said, is more of a destination center and is a far different entity than a local retail store.
There's an outlet mall an hour north of Bakersfield in Tulare, but Keathley said he doesn't think it directly competes with retail in Bakersfield. He said the same would probably be true of an outlet center at Tejon Ranch.
It would provide people with more options.
"I think it's good news for Kern County and good news for the shoppers," he said.
The very concept of outlet stores in Kern County received a warm welcome among Bakersfield residents shopping Friday at Valley Plaza mall and The Marketplace. Many were not shy about offering suggestions about which retailers ought to consider opening a store there.
"I think it's a great thing -- great thing. Bakersfield is so big and only to have one mall...," Charlotte Phillips said, trailing off before listing three stores she would like to see at the center: Coach, Dooney & Bourke and The Gap.
Construction worker Drew Federoff was less interested in the shopping options -- "clothing" is all he could think of as far as what might do well there -- than he was in the jobs it could bring.
"We need to build them," he said.
Fifteen-year-old Kelsea Jay worried only that the stores were going to be too far away for her friends and her as she entered Valley Plaza Friday afternoon.
"We barely get a ride over here," she said. "We live in Oildale. They should put one in Oildale." Jay added that, if she could get to the Grapevine, she'd like to see a Hot Topic apparel store there.
A shopper old enough to drive herself, Juli Smith, said the proposed outlet center seemed plenty close by. In fact, it beats driving to Lake Elsinore or Hollister by a long shot, she said.
"It'll be nice to have something close enough and on route to something," she said before ticking off her favorite outlet ideas: Van Heusen, Izod, The Gap, Wilsons Leather and Clarks Shoes.
Kathryne and Sal Mercado, a couple strolling The Marketplace Friday afternoon, were somewhat divided over the outlet idea. While Kathryne thought the proposal was "overdue" and a superior alternative to their usual drive to Valencia and the coast, Sal worried about the impact on local retailers.
"It wouldn't be good for local business for sure," he said.
Kathryne wasn't so sure, saying, "It would be great for people in the valley."
Representatives of the Tulare Outlet Center and Pismo Beach Premium Outlets could not be reached for comment Friday.
The Outlets at Tejon Ranch, as it's being called, would be located where Interstate 5 and Highway 99 come together. A website devoted to the project says it's meant to appeal not only to Bakersfield residents, but also to attract consumers from northwestern Los Angeles County.
Plus, daily traffic passing that location is estimated at 72,000 vehicles, "evidence that the location is well-established as a successful and preferred location for food, fuel and relaxation," according to the project website. One example given of that success is that the Starbucks and In-N-Out Burger at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center have grown to be among the top national performers of their respective chains, the website says.
Read more about the project at www.outletsattejonranch.com.