Opportunities with Downtown S.B. Revitalization
By Dianne Anderson
San Bernardino city leaders are set to overhaul its vintage downtown vibe from a happier era, and are now calling on the community to get in on the ground floor with a vision for the rebuild.
A recent Special Meeting allowed for a deep dive into the city’s downtown revitalization plan, hearing public comments and accepting input on how the plan could develop numerous brand new projects in the coming months.
Last week, the city adopted the Downtown Revitalization plan with its many moving parts.
Jewel Patterson, spokesperson for Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement, said they hosted their meeting to get community organizations and Black businesses more aligned with the city permitting process, eventually to compete for contracts as opportunities arise.
“There still so much work that needs to be done to make sure that we hold them accountable and the implementation,” she said. “We believe that with the turnout not only on Tuesday, but last week at the City Council meeting we actually swayed them to approve this plan, and helped them see that the community wants this plan.”
With elections coming up and a new city manager expected to come on board, she feels this type of input is important for future community involvement.
“Again, it’s us holding them accountable and coming up alongside as they implement, this is going to be one of the most important pieces,” Patterson said, adding the best way toward community involvement is for the city to consider local businesses and nonprofits first, as opposed to attracting outsiders for local opportunities.
She said COPE is also aligned with Just SB, a coalition of grassroots programs rallying around economic growth in the city.
“We need folks to understand that this plan is not just a one-off thing,” she said. “This is a plan we can continue to be involved in, and make sure we’re pushing city council and holding them accountable in partnering with the community.”
Willie Ellison, a member of the Southern California Black Chamber of Commerce, said there is new growth potential, but he hasn’t seen enough city support for Black businesses, even in better times before the bankruptcy.
He said many good business ideas died on the vine.
For starters, he feels like many others, that the cost of doing business in San Bernardino is too high, and other competitive processes like grants and RFPs should be streamlined.
Many businesses in the Black Chamber are ready and willing to compete as soon as opportunities open up.
“With the Chamber, our CBOs, our nonprofits, we have a lot of qualified folks that could qualify for this work,” he said.
Jeff Krause, spokesperson for the city, said times were tough during the bankruptcy and the city was struggling to pay the bills, but now they can take on more projects, such as beautification and public works.
For a long time, he said the city was working with a skeleton staffing crew, and there is more movement on the staffing side. As future projects take shape, he said the priority of the mayor and council is that the contracts are advertised and awarded locally.
“Is there anything more we can do to make sure local businesses or individuals can qualify and are aware of the process? That’s something that both our purchasing department and economic development works very hard to accomplish,” he said.
Between the housing element, the General Plan and the mall site, he said there will be deliberate outreach and opportunities for community input at city council meetings. He said the purchasing department, economic development and public works are also expanding and a priority of the council.
“We recently hired a diversity and equity employee in our purchasing department to make sure we are reaching out to minority and lower income communities, [to be] aware and they have an opportunity to bid on those contracts,” he said.
ARPA, American Rescue Plan Act, funds came down for areas of homeless services and rental assistance in the past, but he said there isn’t much ARPA funds going toward downtown revitalization due to federal government rules on how that funding can be used.
“We still have upcoming [funding opportunities]. We have a business facade improvement project and a second round of small business and nonprofit assistance programs coming up,” he said.
Another focus area the city is working on for downtown includes finishing the update of the city’s General Plan, zoning code and housing development, now ongoing for two years and expected to be completed in about six months.
Currently, the city is in the process of demolishing the old Carousel Mall, which sits on 43 acres, with discussions on what will happen with the city-owned property. There is an affordable housing option, commercial ideas, to name a few, that will be in the planning stage for the next six to 12 months.
“You rarely see a city that has an established downtown with an opportunity to redevelop with one full swoop, but it’s also something very critical that we do right. All of the voices have an opportunity to say what their vision is to make downtown better,” he said.
For projects and funding in works for City of San Bernardino Planning for Downtown Revitalization, see https://www.sbcity.org/news/whats_new/city_planning_downtown_revitalization
To learn more about COPE, see https://copesite.org/
To see the city’s funding for projects, https://www.sbcity.org/news/whats_new/city_planning_downtown_revitalization