Business

Thursday, Feb 14 2013 02:59 PM

New nonprofit expected to fill redevelopment agency's shoes

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield Downtown Business Association unveiled a new organization Thursday that it hopes will pick up where the city's now-defunct redevelopment agency left off.

A holding company named Downtown Bakersfield Development Corp. launched earlier this year with the goal of soliciting public grants and private donations to fund projects such as improving the area's street lighting and directing visitors to existing parking.

As part of that effort, DBA volunteers have filed papers to create a nonprofit arm that can accept tax-deductible contributions; the corporation is now accepting donations while the nonprofit application is pending. Within two months the DBA expects to form a steering committee that would set priorities for the new organization.

The strictly apolitical nonprofit would generally emphasize commerce, culture and history, said Bob Bell, a downtown developer and former DBA chairman who led the push for a nonprofit focused on downtown.

"There really is no agenda other than to serve the benefit of ourselves," Bell told an audience gathered Thursday morning for the DBA's State of the Downtown Breakfast.

"This is a big, big, big deal going forward. There's a lot of things we can accomplish."

City officials welcomed the new organization as a potential conduit for partnerships and money serving the downtown.

City Councilman Terry Maxwell called the corporation's formation a "great move" that opens the door to shape the downtown area.

Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy was supportive but not effusive.

"I would say that, generically, anybody who expresses an interest in redevelopment, their efforts are appreciated and we're happy to work with them," he said.

Tandy added that the proposed nonprofit would not exactly be unique, in that the city already has a charity capable of applying for and accepting government grants. That organization, named The Bakersfield Foundation, was instrumental in raising money to build Centennial Plaza in 1998, he said.

"It isn't a brand new concept," he said.

Bakersfield and other California cities saw their redevelopment agencies abolished as part of a move by Gov. Jerry Brown in December 2011 to shore up state finances.

Bakersfield's downtown redevelopment project area, one of three in the city, generated tax increment revenues of $5.4 million a year. That money funded development projects including Rabobank Arena, McMurtrey Aquatic Center and Mill Creek Park.

DBA Chairman Jeff Hayward, director of catering for the Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center, said the association wants the DBDC, as the new organization is being called, to work with a wide variety of partners in the community.

"We're looking for organizations of all sizes and all types to work with DBDC ... to revitalize downtown Bakersfield," he said.

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