Tourism has grown, local spending is gaining momentum, businesses are remodeling old downtown buildings and modern design and infrastructure improvements are appearing. These visionary goals stem from the Downtown Tehachapi Master Plan, designed more than a decade ago to guide growth and development.
The plan addressed issues that both urban areas and rural towns struggle with — attracting new residents, keeping young people, bringing in tourism and meeting housing needs.
“It gave everybody a road map,” said Michelle Vance, the former executive director of Main Street Tehachapi who is now manager of the Tehachapi Valley Recreation & Park District.
Main Street Tehachapi is a local nonprofit that helps preserve historic sites and strengthen economic development; the organization participated in defining the master plan vision.
“If the city didn’t invest in infrastructure, we still would have had cracked sidewalks and beat up neighborhoods and no one would invest millions of dollars in downtown buildings," Vance said. "Our city is thriving.”
In the past year, many large developments have materialized.
“The biggest things to attract new residents to our community are the downtown revitalization, Walmart and the new hospital,” said Sally Lawrence, a Realtor at Advantage Real Estate.
Walmart broke ground in July and the new Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley hospital opened in November.
More than a decade ago, downtown areas along Tehachapi Boulevard within a six-block radius lacked stop signs, restaurants, parking areas, lights and occupied buildings, and existing historic buildings needed repairs.
Many areas of improvement feature a mixture of retailers and services to attract people downtown. There are pedestrian improvements, public plazas, new building facades, and a mix of both commercial and residential areas as outlined in the master plan.
“We value our past and are planning our future,” City Manager Greg Garrett said. “If you don’t have a healthy downtown, then you don’t really have a healthy community.”
The Tehachapi Railroad Depot, BeeKay Theatre, Tehachapi Heritage League Museum, the Tehachapi Branch of the Kern County Library, and Kohnen’s Country Bakery, which used to be an apple shed, are just some of the buildings that have been remodeled or restored.
Parks and recreation spaces such as Centennial Plaza, Railroad Park, Philip Marx Central Park, along with others have been enhanced to host major events, bringing in revenue for the city.
More than $2 million every year comes to the city from sales tax of purchased items from local businesses and more than $600,000 per year is gained by a transient occupancy tax, when visitors stay at hotels, according to data from the city of Tehachapi.
Infrastructure upgrades along Tehachapi Boulevard, Green Street and other major streets have included crosswalks, stop signs, public parking areas, and a soon-to-be built bus terminal.
“I think the way downtown is laid out, is very walkable,” said Mayor Pro-tem Susan Wiggins. “It’s a growing and breathing area. People can park downtown and walk to all the restaurants and shops.”
Wiggins added that apple sheds have been converted to restaurants, landscaping has been added, stores that had been empty now have businesses and pedestrian walkways are clearly visible.
Planning for downtown revitalization projects started in 2002. Public workshops attended by 80 community members, stakeholders, city staff and Main Street Tehachapi members defined revitalization goals, with the master plan create by architectural firm RRM Design Group. The final version of the plan was approved by the Tehachapi Planning Commission and Tehachapi City Council in 2003.
“The primary objective for revitalizing the downtown is to accomplish beautification and enhancement of the existing resources, while guiding appropriate future development,” according to the master plan. It added it was “an approach to redevelopment issues, which includes good design, promotion and community pride, economic restructuring of existing assets, and organization and cooperation.”
The plan also laid out what property and business owners, residents and representatives from the Tehachapi Planning Commission and Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce wanted to see downtown.
Some businesses and housing styles were "not an appropriate choice for downtown neighborhoods," said the plan. It added that social services, modular homes, car dealerships and auto repair shops were to be relocated out of downtown.
New zoning codes in 2012, specific designs and mixed residential units are part of revised codes that determine what is built on properties and housing developments around the city.
Funding for much of the downtown revitalization came from the Tehachapi Redevelopment Agency that used a portion of property tax money, especially when values increased to help cities fix blighted or damaged areas. This resource ended in 2012 when California dissolved redevelopment agencies, said huduser.gov.
More than $10 million in funding was allotted to the city of Tehachapi during the fiscal years of 2002-2012, said data from the Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk's office.