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Wednesday, Dec 04 2013 06:00 AM

Lehigh Cement donates to Freedom Plaza project

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Craig Mifflin, right, manager of Environmental and public affairs for Lehigh Southwest Cement, presents Tehachapi mayor Phil Smith with a check for $20,000 as a donation for the city's planned "Freedom Plaza" Monday, Nov. 18. Gregory D. Cook / Tehachapi News

Assistant City Manager Chris Kirk presents a sketch of the plans for Freedom Plaza and a visitor's center to the audience at Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council's Nov. 6 meeting. Emily Brunett / Tehachapi News

City moving forward with Plaza, visitor center concept

Lehigh Southwest Cement Company rounded off a second donation installment to the City of Tehachapi for its proposed Freedom Plaza project at the City Council's Nov. 18 meeting.

Craig Mifflin of Lehigh presented Mayor Phil Smith with a check for $20,000. Last year, Lehigh gave the city a check for the same amount, intended for the same project.

"People often ask me, why do you guys give money to the community," Mifflin said. "I always give the same answer, and it's basically two-fold."

The company official said he honestly believes that it is the right thing to do, and that same perspective is promoted throughout the company.

"Secondly, is that, the first thing we have to do is make sure everybody doesn't think that we're killing them," Mifflin said. "That we're not polluting the environment, that we're not hurting anybody. After that's taken care of, the monies that we spend, we want to be known as a good neighbor."

In his brief to the council, Mifflin mentioned that Lehigh is actively reducing mercury emissions and looking into fossil fuel alternatives.

Lehigh's gift came despite Mifflin's report that the plant is still "in the red," though he said business is improving.

"We really love this idea of the Freedom Plaza," Mifflin said. "It's a great design, and it's well thought out, and it's going to be a fantastic addition to our community."

Assistant City Manager Chris Kirk said Freedom Plaza has been on the city's wish list for several years. The city bought the lot at the corner of West Tehachapi Boulevard and South Curry Street using money from the Redevelopment Agency with the intent of making the space one for public enjoyment.

The area is dubbed "Freedom Plaza" because the city plans to celebrate the nation's Armed Forces and will include a monument. Designs for the structure have been drawn up by local architect Alex Kosich but are tentative.

"The Plaza will give that patriotic feel, without being so in your face," Kirk said.

The 450 square foot building on the lot is set to be transformed into a visitor's center, under the supervision of the Tehachapi Tourism Commission.

"The goal is to promote Tehachapi to tourists and visitors," Kirk said.

Commission chair Charles White petitioned the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council on Nov. 6 to ally with the city on the project. The Tourism Commission operates under the non-profit umbrella of the GTEDC, and therefore needs that organization's approval to enter into a contract to operate the visitor's center.

The lease agreement is currently under review by the GTEDC board members.

Kirk said the contract is almost identical to those with the Tehachapi Depot Railroad Museum and the Beekay Theatre. The lessee pays no rent to the city, but is responsible for operating at cost; namely, paying for utilities and insurance. The city will be responsible for structurally maintaining the site.

The term of the lease is 10 years, but either party can cancel with 30 days notice.

"The reality is, we're looking for another community partner," Kirk said of the potential deal with the GTEDC.

White said there is no operating budget in place for the center, since the agreement is still pending.

His vision for the center includes providing information on area tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, upcoming events and concerts, up-to-date home price averages, organizing day trip tours and self-guided driving tours.

"So basically anything a tourist might ask," White said, summing it up.

While Lehigh's contributions have aided with the financials of the Freedom Plaza project, Kirk said other funds include $207,000 from a county Community Development Block Grant and civic facilities fees money. He also plans to approach the City Council with a request for some amount of matching funds.

"I'm confident we can do the Freedom Plaza project with the funding we have now," Kirk said.

Kirk said work is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring.

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2014/10/22
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