LODI — Bettyann Spenker is joking but serious at the same time.
In 2010, her daughters, Kate and Sarah, were out of the house off to college.
So, “I replaced them,” Bettyann said.
Indeed she did.
Spenker replaced her kids with goat kids. Her first was a cute, tiny Nigerian Dwarf she named Shirley. Fast forward nearly a decade and the tribe on the Spenker’s farmstead in Lodi has grown to more than 70 with some 23 supplying Bettyann and her daughters with enough milk to commercially make cheese and yogurt.
Today, Spenker Family Farm on DeVries Road includes their winery, vineyard, goat farm and the only goat creamery in San Joaquin County.
The idea to open an artisan creamery came when Kate and Sarah returned home from college and expressed interest in continuing the family business. There was much to discuss: The market for Zinfandel, of which they have 60 acres, wasn’t exactly robust. Their winery, which opened in 1994 as a means to showcase their grapes, was boutique in size. There already were many wineries in Lodi. How could theirs stand out from the rest? They needed to vertically integrate, but how?
They decided to open a goat creamery.
“Adding cheese seemed like a fun and natural fit,” said Kate Spenker, who studied art history and graduated in 2010 from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. “This is Mom’s baby. We support her, but we had to make the decision as a family. It is a big commitment. You’re taking care of the animals and making the product. But it’s her passion and we’re following her in that. It’s very cool. It’s been a fun project.”
Kate and Sarah helped design the animal barn and the adjacent barn that houses the wine tasting room and creamery. Sarah, who studied theater at Concordia University in Irvine, handles sales and manages the tasting room. Visitors to the tasting room can look through large windows into the creamery. Both barns are painted red and trimmed in white. Their bet is the creamery will bring in more revenue, not only in sales of cheese and yogurt, but also agritourism. They already have hosted goat yoga classes and plan to hold wine and cheese pairings and cheese-making classes.
“Bettyann had this concept a few years ago and I went, ‘OK, sounds nice,’” said Chuck Spenker, Bettyann’s husband and a third-generation wine grape grower. “It completes the farm here.”
After 12 hours, the cheese should look like yogurt, solid if tipped but still relatively soft. You may see some whey separating from the cheese. The whey is a mostly clear yellowish liquid.
Place a piece of butter muslin (doubled) in a colander in a bowl. Gently spoon the chèvre into the butter muslin. Gather up the corners of the muslin and tie knots to secure.
Hang the butter muslin filled with the chèvre over a bowl so the whey can drain. An easy way to do this is to tie the butter muslin around a cupboard handle so the bowl to catch the whey can rest on the counter underneath.
On July 26, after years of planning and building, the Spenkers cleared the final hurdle of red tape when the state issued their milk-processing license. Since then, Bettyann and her girls have been busy making cheese that they hope to have ready to sell later this month from their tasting room. Other wineries have expressed interest, as have some retail shops.
“People are eager to buy it,” Bettyann said. “So that’s good.”
During a recent visit, Bettyann and Kate scooped pasteurized curds into colanders lined with cheese cloth. They gathered the curds in the cloth and hung the bundles on racks to allow the whey to drain. In 24 hours, the result is fresh, spreadable chèvre, which will be offered straight or flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, and herbes de Provence. Bettyann also makes a mild, pressed cheese she calls Delta Breeze from an Italian-style recipe that melts easily, has a firm texture and subtle tang — an excellent entry-point for non-goat-cheese lovers or a palate cleanser on a cheese board — and a cultured, soft, gooey, decadent cheese named Shirley’s Dream, an homage to Bettyann’s first goat, that has been dusted in ash and covered by a bloomy rind — an absolutely remarkable cheese that’s salty and earthy with mushroom and umami notes.
Bettyann said she grew up in suburbia, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and not on a farm. She home-schooled her daughters and taught other home-schooled students science and math. She’s proficient in chemistry and fermentation science. She makes all of her family’s estate-grown wines: Muscat of Alexandria (Morning Glory), rosé blend of Zinfandel and Syrah (Evening Prim Rosé), Sarah’s Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.
Bettyann basically taught herself how to make cheese and yogurt, though she had help and encouragement from friends. The goats are milked once per day and a total of 15 to 20 gallons is collected, good for about 30-40 pounds of a soft cheese, such as chèvre. Goats generally will remain in lactation 10 months a year, though it depends on the breed. In addition to Nigerian Dwarfs, the Spenkers have Nubians, La Manchas and crosses between Nubians and Nigerian Dwarfs.
“That gives you the fantastic milk quality of the Nigerian Dwarfs and a little more volume with the bigger goats,” Bettyann said about the crossbreeds. “Then, I have the La Manchas and they look like they don’t have ears. They have tiny little ears and those are really nice, fairly calm and compliant dairy goats.”
Each goat has a name and Bettyann and the girls can tell them apart on sight. Willow, for instance, is a full Nubian. There’s also Thisbe; a yearling named Calliope; and a two-year-old Nigerian Dwarf, Mariah, to name a few. The goats like to be in the shade, eat hay and chomp on their favorite treat, animal crackers.
Spenker Family Farm at 17291 DeVries Road in Lodi is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: (209) 367-0467, spenkerwinery.com.
Joshua Yeager, Visalia Times-DeltaPublished 9:22 a.m. PT July 26, 2019
It was standing room only at the Three Rivers Memorial Building on Wednesday evening, as more than 100 locals turned out to discuss the future of the small foothill community during a town hall meeting.
Much of the debate centered on a proposed 200-room, $30 million “luxury lodge” off Highway 198 and Old Three Rivers Road.
District 1 Supervisor Kuyler Crocker said the town hall meeting was intended to educate residents and hear their concerns.
“We are much closer to the starting line than the finish line here,” Crocker said of the proposed hotel. “Now is the opportunity to learn and give feedback.”
Dubbed Sequoia Resort and Spa in preliminary site plans, the boutique hotel would feature striking, earthen architecture and offer guests an experience directly inspired by the backdrop of Sequoia National Park.
Because the land is already zoned for hotel construction and abides by the Three River Community Plan, principal partner Guatam Patel could legally begin construction without public hearing.
However, Patel told the packed room he is committed to incorporating community feedback into the project’s design, having already sunk 2.5 years and more than $500,000 into finding an appropriate site.
“We are committed to having a local flair to this. That’s where modern hotel design is going,” he said. “Guests don’t want to sit trapped in their room for three nights. They want to go out and experience the local spots.”
The flair will cost you: Rooms at the resort are expected to run at least $300 a night, Patel said.
That was great news to at least one Three Rivers hotelier, who offers a comparatively humbler — and affordable — stay at the Sequoia Motel a mile up the road from the proposed resort.
“It’s not going to compete with us,” said Chris Schlossin, who opened the 12-room motel 23 years ago. “Three Rivers doesn’t have anything of that caliber. It would be a little glowing star on the map.”
For Schlossin, Airbnb is a much bigger threat to business.
Large groups of tourists rent out vacation homes on the app for rates at which local lodgings can’t compete. The county presented a draft short-term rental ordinance that Schlossin hopes will remedy the situation with occupancy limits on Airbnb homes.
Neither Airbnb or Sequoia Motel is likely to compete with the luxury project Patel envisions, however.
“It’s a high-end place. That’s something the county doesn’t have,” Schlossin said. “It’s encouraging that they’re reaching out to the community. You gotta give the man (Patel) credit for being a good neighbor.”
Patel committed to incorporating local businesses into the hotel’s operation, so long as they “meet a high operational standard,” including a restaurant and retail space. He hopes that the resort could be a draw during the off-season, benefiting local businesses.
“You only have three-to-four months to make your money here. If they could improve business during the shoulder months, that would be wonderful,” Schlossin said.
The bulk of the 102,000-square-foot project will be built offsite, so builders can erect the building in Three Rivers in a matter of days, minimizing disruption to the environment and neighbors, Patel said.
Housing for the hotel’s estimated 30 employees will be included with the project, so as not to further crunch Three River’s long-term rental and housing market.
He also addressed community concerns surrounding water and the area’s fickle water table.
“This is the water nobody else in the community wants, but that we will use and pay dearly to use,” Patel said, pointing to a state-of-the-art company the developer hopes to partner with to treat water and manage effluent.
Besides water, many residents were concerned about the possibility of a rumored incentive to build the $30 million hotel project in Tulare County.
Last year, the Sierra Star reported that Madera County supervisors cut Patel a deal to move ahead with a similar hotel project in Oakhurst, near Yosemite National Park.
The incentive took the form of a 50% rebate on the hotel’s transient occupancy tax over 25 years. TOT is a tax levied on travelers who stay at a hotel for fewer than 30 days.
The rate varies by county. In Tulare County, the TOT is 10%.
Crocker said the county hadn’t settled on a number yet and discussions with developer Patel Group were still ongoing.
“I understand why (the county) would (offer Patel) a deal for an upscale development, but it’s still frustrating that other hotels have to pay the full tax. We didn’t get any breaks,” Schlossin said.
The supervisor pointed out that such arrangements were common and would benefit both the county and the developer, providing financial incentives to build while capturing tax revenue that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
“The TOT rebate is favorable to attract business and generate long-term economic activity and taxable commerce,” Crocker said.
Some at the town hall questioned whether that tax should be used to benefit only the Three Rivers community, rather than the county’s general fund.
The argument was a no-go for Crocker.
“While Three Rivers does generate more TOT tax, other county communities generate much more sales tax or property tax and we don’t give them special treatment,” Crocker said. “I’m not going to write a blank check to Three Rivers or any other county community.”
The supervisor pointed to a $400,000 restroom project and expansion of the Three Rivers Historical Museum slated to be completed by the of the year.
The project was paid for out of the county’s general fund, Crocker said.
Great Wolf Lodge is bringing a water park back to Manteca, CA. An update on the indoor water park resort and hotel project that is expected to bring 500 to 600 jobs to the Central Valley city.
Yes, the water slides are still coming. So is the hotel. Plus a family entertainment center. And restaurants. But before any of that arrives, expect between 500 and 600 jobs to come to Manteca.
A small-scale village in the form of the Great Wolf Lodge is rising in the Central Valley city just off Highway 120. A representative from a highly anticipated water park resort gave a public presentation at Manteca City Hall on Thursday evening to a packed crowd.
The 500-room, six-story structure is on track to open in June or July of 2020. Construction has been under way since groundbreaking last November. The structure looms large, visible from the freeway next to the Costco and Big League Dreams center.
Steven Jacobsen, vice president of domestic development at Great Wolf, updated the audience on the project’s progress and sought to reassure citizens that the resort would be a good and welcoming neighbor once it opens.
“We’re all about families. And we’re all about providing an opportunity for families to spend time together — quality time,” Jacobsen said. “We’re about creating an incredible experience so the average family can go with family and loved ones and have a great time.”
The new development will feature a connected hotel, indoor water park and family entertainment center. Jacobsen boasted of more than 50 activities “under one roof” at the resort. They include numerous water slides, wave pools, a lazy river, shopping, multiple dining options, bowling, arcades and even an interactive adventure game.
Great Wolf operates 17 resorts in North America, making it the largest indoor water park company on the continent. Besides its upcoming Manteca location, it has another set to open this fall near Phoenix, and one each planned for England and Mexico. The Midwest-founded and based company expects to see 8 million guests through its property next year.
Jacobsen reiterated the company’s reasons for its hotel guest-only policy for its water park — safety and overall park enjoyment — but also introduced a new day-pass pilot program the resort has rolled out recently. At other properties, the company is testing passes to allow non-hotel guests to use the water park based on occupancy levels.
“We don’t want you to stand in a Disney line at Great Wolf,” Jacobsen said.
The company is still evaluating the day-pass program, and prices are flexible based on dates and occupancy. Jacobsen wouldn’t give a price range for the passes, but a look at the July day-pass rate at the three closest Great Wolf resorts in Southern California, Washington and Colorado put the fee mid-week at $65-$80 per person and weekend rate at $90-$110 per person.
When compared to booking a hotel room, which has two days of water park access for all of the registered guests included in the rate plus free parking, Jacobsen told the crowd that for a family of four-plus, it typically pencils out better to rent a room instead of doing the day passes.
Jacobsen also couldn’t give a price range for the Manteca rooms, as they change depending on the day of the week, season and overall occupancy. But in Anaheim this month, rooms start at around $329.99 for a standard and $629 for a premium suite. The largest rooms in the resort will be able to sleep up to 12, and multiple different kinds of rooms and packages are available. Jacobsen also stressed that the Manteca site will not have minimum night stay requirements for hotel guests to use the park.
Still, for folks who don’t want to book a room, the lodge still has public areas that are accessible to non-hotel guests. Those include the restaurants and all of the family fun center, which will have an arcade, bowling alley, games and more.
And for those not looking to stay or play, the lodge could become their work as Jacobsen revealed the complex would hire between 500 to 600 full-time and part-time jobs. Positions will range from lifeguards to waitstaff, engineers to hotel clerks. Jacobsen said they are teaming with the City of Manteca to help publicize the positions.
There will be a job fair in the city about 30 to 45 days before its opening next summer. So job seekers should be on the lookout for information around April and May of next year. Jacobsen said the job fair would ensure that Manteca residents “got first crack” at employment.
The managerial positions should be hired 30 to 45 days before the site’s opening, and then the bulk of the remaining staff should come on board about two and a half weeks out. No other job descriptions, salary information or employment requirements have been released yet.
Jacobsen and city staff also addressed some logistical concerns from area residents, including traffic on Daniels Street. City Manager Tim Ogden assured attendees that the road, which currently stops at the Great Wolf construction site, would be extended to McKinley Avenue on the west side of the project. That work should be completed by next February, months before the opening.
One of the best things about Fresno? Its farmers markets.
Since we feed the nation with what we grow here, it’s no surprise we have some pretty awesome markets.
Sometimes walking through a Fresno farmers market is a sensual experience.
There’s so much to take in: Piles of glossy vegetables, new fruits you’ve never seen before and bundles of mint and basil so fragrant they deserve a vase in the middle of the dining room table.
Mid July is like Christmas when it comes fresh fruit. So many are in season: peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, figs, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe and more.
If you’re a baker, this is your chance to make something photo worthy.
But even in the dead of winter, farmers markets here carry a surprising amount of produce, like hearty dinosaur kale and rainbow chard.
Our farmers markets often carry things you can’t always find at the supermarket: Unusual varieties of pluots (a cross between apricots and plums), heirloom tomatoes with streaks of green and red, yellow raspberries, curly garlic scapes, taro root, and lately, lemon cucumbers – little round cukes that taste like their name.
Part of the fun is not being afraid to ask a farmer what something is or how to prepare it. Then you can impress your friends and family with new and different flavors.
Whichever farmers market you choose, bring lots of small bills and plastic bags.
Our list of markets below covers Fresno and Clovis, though there are certainly many more in outlying cities. Some are seasonal and some are year round. Most markets accept the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, card or the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
When:From 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, March through November, starting at 9 a.m. from December through February.
Where: Fresno Medical Center, 7300 N. Fresno St.
Contact: (559) 448-4128.
Details: With all kinds of vegetables and fruit for sale, there are also baked goods, handmade soaps, and flowers. Food trucks and other vendors are there, including Spoon & Fork’s Filipino food, Raw Fresno and Ohana Pantry selling its acai bowls.
Where: In the parking lot at Manchester Center, at Blackstone and Shields avenues.
Contact: (559) 360-1377.
Details: With lots of fruit and vegetable vendors, you’ll also find puppet performances for the kids and the Fresno County Bookmobile is there the first Friday of every month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lots of Mexican food vendors serve burritos, tacos, Mexican seafood dishes, fruit cups and aguas frescas.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays, from May to October.
Where: Kern Street, between M and N streets, in downtown Fresno.
Contact: downtownfresno.org or 559-490-9966 ext. 221.
Details: This seasonal market has live music or a DJ each week. It has vegetables, fruit, fresh-squeezed juices, honey and prepared foods like Kettle Corn, Casa de Tamales and vegan friendly Rappit Up!
When: 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m Fridays, from May through September.
Where: On Pollasky Avenue, between Third and Seventh streets.
Contact: oldtownclovis.org or (559) 298-5774.
Details: This huge farmers market is as much about entertainment as it is about food. There is live music and lots of vendors selling all kinds of vegetables and fruit. Plus there locally made goods like soaps and garden items like succulents. Plenty of food trucks show up and you’ll also find shaved ice, and vendors like the Butternut Baking Co., which sells cookies and other baked goods.
Where: Pollasky between Fifth Street & Bullard Avenue.
Contact: oldtownclovis.org or (559) 298-5774.
Details: This is a year-round market that’s smaller than its Friday-night counterpart. It features plenty of fruit and vegetables, including strawberries, along with herbs, fresh-squeezed juices and fresh flowers. Prepared food is also for sale including tamales, baked goods and other snacks.
When: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays year round. Once a month, the market celebrates one food, with quadruple the number of mobile food vendors that day and expanded hours from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. those days. The next one is “peach palooza” on Tuesday, July 23.
Details: This market has grown substantially in recent years. In addition to local farmers selling their fruit and vegetables, you’ll also find live music, free bounce houses and handmade items. Several food trucks and vendors participate, like cupcake truck the Cupcake Route, Quesadilla Gorilla and Tako Korean BBQ.
Details:Started last year, the market has vendors selling fruit and vegetables, including Asian veggies, and nuts, jams and jellies. Expect prepared foods like fruit cups and carne asada tacos and elote (corn with cheese and chile powder) from Sanchez Corn.
The Farmers Market at Saint Rest Plaza
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the second Saturday of the month through October.
Where: Saint Rest Plaza, Elm and Reverend Chester Riggins avenues in south Fresno.
Contact: (559) 420-0760.
Details: The youngest farmers market around, this one at the newly constructed Saint Rest Plaza. Ooooby sells its organic produce and fruit, along with a farm called Peach on Earth selling stone fruit. A group of kids called the Sweet Potato Club is also selling its sweet potato goods, including milkshakes.
One or two food trucks are usually there and the market is looking for new vendors.
When: From 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays
Where: At 100 W. Shaw Ave., its on the northwest corner of Blackstone and Shaw avenues, tucked behind Eyeglass World.
Details: One of the bigger markets around, this market has almost everything grown here sold by the farmers who grew it. That includes stone fruit-like peaches, plums and nectarines, all kinds of berries, artichokes, herbs, flowers, fresh-squeezed juices and greens. You’ll also find honey, jam, bread from La Boulangerie, knife sharpening and coffee available by the cup or the pound. Various food vendors attend the market too, including Casa de Tamales.
Nor-Cal Steel Structures Inc. from Modesto is doing the iron work for a Yard House restaurant under construction at The Shops at River Walk. Nearby, two retail stores and a two-story office building may soon begin construction.
Alex Horvath / The Californian
A restaurant isn’t the only new business coming to The Shops at River Walk, but it’s likely to arrive there before anything else does.
Construction workers at the development on the north side of Stockdale Highway just west of Calloway Drive were busy Monday building a future location for Yard House, the chain known for its vast selection of beers, often served in tall glasses, as well as burgers and salads.
Scott Thayer, senior vice president of developer Castle Cooke California Inc., said the 8,870-square-foot restaurant project is coming along well, as is a roughly 1,500-square-foot patio being built for Yard House. But he was not authorized to say when it’s expected to open.
He did, however, share a little bit about what else might be going up nearby.
There’s going to be a new office building, for one thing — a two-story affair measuring 17,000 square feet, Thayer said. He added that final plans for the project have not yet been sent to city officials for review.
In addition, two buildings measuring 5,700 square feet each will be built near the Yard House. But again, he’s unable to disclose who’s going in at those spaces.
Thayer did offer this, though: They’re going to be retail stores.
Once leases get signed — and not before — Thayer said the names of the future tenants will be released.
He said he’d like to share more but that now things are in potential tenants’ hands.
“The longer they take to sign the leases, the longer it’ll take for us to start” construction, he said.
The front entrance of the new Dry Creek office building at the E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto, Calif., on Tuesday, August 30, 2016. ANDY ALFAROAALFARO@MODBEE.COM
E.&J. Gallo Winery has 34 new wine and spirit brands to its name after reaching a $1.7 billion deal to purchase properties from its rival Constellation Brands.
The Modesto-based company reached an agreement with Constellation, best known for producing beers like Corona, Modelo and Pacifico, to acquire several well-known wine brands, including Northern California labels Clos du Bois, Black Box and Ravenswood, in addition to sparking wine and spirits.
Included in the purchase were wine brands: Clos du Bois, Black Box, Ravenswood, Estancia, Mark West, Franciscan, Toasted Head, Hogue Cellars, Wild Horse, Blackstone, Vendange, Rex Goliath, Diseno, Hidden Crush, Taylor Country Cellars, Blufeld, Manischewitz, Wild Irish Rose, Arbor Mist, Milestone, La Terre, Taylor Dessert, Paul Masson Dessert, Capri, Cribari Dessert, Primal Roots, Taylor NY Table, Paul Masson Table,
Also included in the deal were sparkling wine brands Cook’s and J. Roget and Paul Masson brandy. The deal adds about 700 employees to Gallo’s existing 6,500 worldwide, and six winemaking facilities. They are Mission Bell in Madera, Turner Road Vintners in Lodi, Clos du Bois in Geyserville and Wild Horse in Templeton, along with Washington state’s Hogue Cellars and New York’s Canandaigua.
Most of the newly acquired wines are around the $11 price point. New York-based Constellation retains all of its beer brands, SVEDKA Vodka and several other wine labels including the high-profile Robert Mondavi brand family. Late last year, Constellation made a $4 billion investment in Canopy Growth, a Canadian-based cannabis company.
Earlier this year, Wine Business Monthly named Gallo No. 1 and Constellation No. 3 for the U.S.’s largest wineries by volume. The Wine Group out of Livermore (with a large production facility near Ripon) came in at No. 2.
Gallo has long sold wine at a range of prices and should do well with the labels it is buying from Constellation, said Cyril Penn, editor of Wine Business Monthly, speaking by phone from his Sonoma office.
“I would not expect them to dumb down these brands,” he said. “If anything, it will rejuvenate them.”
Gallo has succeeded through “vertical integration” that has grape growing, bottle making, distribution and other functions under one ownership, Penn said.
Brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo founded the winery in Modesto in 1933. It concentrated on lower-priced wines from the San Joaquin Valley for most of its history but branched in the 1980s into premium vineyards near the California coast. Gallo later added Washington state and also imports wine and spirits from several countries.
The growth has come through Gallo’s own startup wineries and through purchases of established brands. Usually, the acquisition costs are disclosed because the companies are not publicly traded. Constellation is.
For Gallo, the addition brings some well-known brands into its portfolio.
“We are committed to remaining a family-owned company focused on growing the wine industry.,” said Gallo CEO Joseph E. Gallo in a press release about the acquisition. “While we continue to invest in our premium and luxury businesses, we see a tremendous opportunity with this acquisition to bring new consumers into the wine category. We will continue to provide our customers and consumers with quality products at every price point.”
The Gallo portfolio has over 100 brands, including wine labels Gallo Family Vineyards, Barefoot Cellars, Dark Horse, Apothic and Ecco Domani. Its spirits roster includes New Amsterdam vodka and gin, E&J brandy and Familia Camarena tequila.
E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto has rebranded and relaunched its Thunderbird wine. The old version, known for its citrus flavor and high alcohol, has been discontinued. The new Thunderbird comes in chardonnay, red blend and cabernet sauvignon.
The deal is one of the larger acquisitions for a Central Valley-based company in recent history. In 2002, Save Mart Supermarkets purchased Food 4 Less for $165 million. In 2007, Modesto-founded 5.11 Tactical owner Dan Costa sold the majority stake in his company for $305 million.
“This is a large deal; it’s a large acquisition for the Central Valley,” said Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. “This makes Gallo a bigger player in the wine industry here, where they are already large and dominant.”
It might take five years, it might take a decade, but Kern County is apparently getting a Hard Rock Cafe-branded hotel and casino.
At least that’s the hope of the Tejon Tribe of Kern County, which announced an agreement this week with Hard Rock International, the global hospitality company known for its rock ‘n’ roll-themed restaurants. Hard Rock has agreed to develop and manage a $600 million, 400-room hotel and casino that the tribe has proposed on farmland just west of Highway 99, half an hour south of Bakersfield.
Sandra Hernandez, a council member with the Tejon Tribe, joined The Californian’s Robert Price Wednesday on his weekly “One on One” noon webcast to talk about the Tejon Tribe and its vision for the hotel-casino.
Among the topics they discussed:
• The tribe is considering the possibility of building administrative offices, a health-care facility and housing near the hotel-casino, which will occupy 52 acres of the 306-acre parcel the tribe owns near Mettler.
• The hotel-casino would employ 2,000 people — more than twice the number of known Tejon tribal members. There’s no such thing as a hiring advantage for tribal members, however. “We’re an equal opportunity employer,” Hernandez said.
• Hernandez said she expects to maintain good relations and mutual support among the management of the Tejon’s Hard Rock casino and those of the Eagle Mountain and Tachi Palace gaming casinos in adjacent Tulare and Kings counties, respectively.
The Home2 Suites just west of Coffee Road on the north side of the Westside Parkway south of Brimhall Road hotel is under construction.
Alex Horvath / The Californian
Expectations that Bakersfield’s economy is on the rise have created the city’s biggest hotel boom since the Great Recession.
Half a dozen hotels with a combined 658 rooms are proposed or under construction, all on the city’s west side and many of them extended-stay properties geared toward business travelers. Some of the incoming brands are entirely new to the city.
Hoteliers say the rush of private investment is being driven in part by other local projects, such as the Amazon distribution center under construction near Meadows Field Airport. There’s also a sense the city’s relatively low housing and labor costs have created an incentive to build while the savings last.
Conditions in Bakersfield’s hotel market have improved significantly during the past decade — the city’s occupancy rate is up more than six points, average room rates have increased 25 percent and Bakersfield’s hotel room inventory is up 12 percent, according to hotel data tracker STR.
Those numbers alone don’t explain the construction seen in the market lately, said Francois Khoury, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton Bakersfield, which is finishing up more than $15 million of renovations that began in April of last year.
He said a bigger factor in the recent investment is anticipation that oil prices are on the way up and that now’s the time to prepare for good times ahead in the local economy.
“Everybody wants to be ready,” he said.
AFFORDABILITY AND GROWTH
Jenny Hlaudy, general manager of The Courtyard by Marriott, sees affordability as bringing investor attention to the Bakersfield market. Land is inexpensive locally, she said, and so are housing costs.
At the same time, the area’s overall growth, combined with large construction projects going on around town, are helping not just hotels but also local restaurants and stores. She said the net effect is a desirable place to build new lodging.
“It’s huge,” she said of the hotel boom. “We haven’t had that much growth, as far as hotels, in many years. … It’s going to truly impact this city.”
One of the new hotels coming online later this year is a 113-room Home2 Suites by Hilton west of Coffee Road near Brimhall Road. Director of Sales Denise Connor said a large housing-residential-retail project proposed nearby, the Bakersfield Commons proposal, is probably one reason why the hotel is being built.
“With the Bakersfield Commons coming in, that is going to bring in potential new growth,” Connor said. She added that new roads projects and the Amazon center are further positive signs that could lead to business for the hotel.
David Lyman, manager of Visit Bakersfield, the city’s convention and visitors bureau credited an increase in local events for recent hotel investments, as well as travelers stopping overnight on their way to national parks to the north and south.
Whatever the reason, Bakersfield’s hotel tax — a 12 percent addition to the cost of a room — is now bringing in more money than it ever has. This fiscal year alone the tax is projected to raise $9.7 million for the city’s general fund.
Add that to the money visitors spend on meals and supplies, he said, and the local hospitality industry becomes an economic force that is growing fast.
“These projects create and retain jobs, not just the people who work in the hotels and restaurants,” he said. “We all like to keep that money flowing locally.”
By Tim Viall, Special to The Record
Posted May 13, 2019
Residents of San Joaquin County live in, arguably, the most productive agricultural region in the world. But, as cities expand, farming and food production is pushed further each year into the countryside; many residents seldom think where that food on the table comes from, much less how it is harvested and produced.
To understand the agricultural underpinnings of our county, make your first stop the San Joaquin Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park south of Lodi. The museum story begins with an expanded Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in what is now San Joaquin County for more than 13,000 years.
The museum traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people, all with rich cultures and lifestyles. Native peoples here put up the greatest resistance to the Spanish-Mexican missions and fought battles with the largest army formed in Spanish-Mexican California. Videos bring to life the intricacies of traditional basket making, acorn preparation, deer hunting and native life.
An interactive circular display allows visitors to listen to recorded messages. In one recording, Glen Villa Jr. (Northern Miwok/Plains Miwok) tells about the First People and a traditional creation narrative. Another recording shares a traditional Yokuts story, told by Sylvia Ross (Chukchansi Yokuts), a third of the Indian freedom fighters led by Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River and county were named.
These exhibits work well with the other exhibits in the Erickson Building, and visitors can go in chronological order from the Native peoples who first inhabited the area, to an exhibit on the early trappers and the founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to an exhibition on the early American settlers, then on to exhibits on the Gold Rush, a hands-on children’s gallery, and the adjacent Weber Gallery.
The Innovators of Agriculture exhibit features the development of intensive, irrigated agriculture in the county beginning around 1900. Six crops are the focus: dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts, canning tomatoes and truck farming (growing of fruits and veggies, trucked to local markets). If you want insight into why our county is so ag-centric, start at this museum wonder! The museum is kid-friendly, with lots of “hands-on” options, and scores of huge tractors, harvesters and vintage farming equipment to wow even young visitors.
Expand your agri-history tour with a visit to the California Agricultural Museum in Woodland, north of Sacramento and just off Interstate 5. Gene Muhlenkamp, a docent since 1996, took two hours to show my friends and I through much of the museum. Its collection stems from that of the Heidrick Brothers, farmers who built a substantial farming empire west of Woodland beginning in the 1930s. Inventive, they often concocted their own machinery to solve farming challenges and began an extensive collection of vintage and noteworthy agri-machinery.
The museum offers a unique collection of tractors, artifacts and interactive exhibits telling the history of California agriculture. Implements date back to the Gold Rush era and follow California’s evolution from horse-drawn ag machinery to steam-driven and then on to fuel-powered machines. Wander the collection of wheeled and track-type harvesters, tractors, combines, trucks and photo galleries. You’ll even find a Ford Model T roadster converted to a farm tractor.
Museum items with a Stockton connection include an old Samson Sieve-Grip tractor, built in Stockton in the early 1900s, several huge Holt tracked-vehicles, built for the U.S. military in World War I to haul artillery pieces and take the place of horses, killed all too often in action. The huge Holt tractor, armored for wartime, has a number of dents in its armor from bullet strikes.
A monster-sized Best steamer seems almost too large to be true, dwarfing my friends who joined for the tour. A giant Holt harvester (made in Stockton), all of wood and timber with iron fittings, was once hauled through fields with a team of two dozen horses and mules, before steam power would replace the horses.
A display of vintage John Deere tractors, meticulously renovated, lines one long wall; down the center of the museum march a line of a dozen Caterpillar tractors, used both on the farm and in the construction industry. A midsized Fordson tractor, nicknamed the “Snow Devil,” is equipped with spiral-ribbed pontoons, used to navigate deep snows of Donner Pass to haul five tons of mail during winter’s harsh storms.
Museumgoers with kids will find a special play area designed to hearken back to simpler times when child’s play required imagination. Kids can play corn hole, and enjoy the carousel and pedal tractors. A team of docents will tour you through the 45,000-square-foot museum gallery, noting that each tractor, wagon or harvester all have their unique stories.
For more information: The California Agriculture Museum, 1958 Hays Lane, Woodland, (530) 666-9700, http://Californiaagmuseum.org, open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi, http://sanjoaquinhistory.org, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
“It’s like a California version of the New York versus New Jersey thing—but maybe worse,” Smith says. “You’re so close to one of the biggest metro areas in the country, but never quite there.”
Like many of his generation, Smith, 37, moved to bigger cities in search of opportunity. In his case, he sought work in urban planning and commercial development in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. But as he developed a passion for downtown revitalization, he began wondering, why not Bakersfield? He returned to his hometown in 2014 with a hunch that the city was ripe for redevelopment, and soon began work on what would become the 17th Place Townhomes.
Since opening in 2016, the high-end three-story, 44-unit downtown development represents the first market-rate housing built in the city’s core in decades. It’s not every day the city gets new housing, complete with a dog park, fountains, and a fire pit. Now that the development is fully leased—not a small accomplishment for new housing asking the highest rent in town, at between $1,630 and $1,830 for a two-bedroom—its success has convinced Smith and his firm, Sage Equities Real Estate, to break ground later this year on a new 53-unit project downtown.
“What we’re doing is a real niche product,” he says. “But you can really start seeing people get excited about this neighborhood.”
A bet on Bakersfield and rebuilding downtown
Smith’s bet on Bakersfield represents a new era of development, however small, for this Central Valley city. A recent report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) found Bakersfield to have one of the highest rates of millennial movers and homeowners, setting off a series of stories written with a tone of “wait, that Bakersfield?” as if it were a shock that somebody might find the city was both a good value and a good opportunity.
After all, compared to coastal California, where were the high-paying tech jobs and new homes? When California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s troubled high-speed rail project would focus on the Bakersfield to Merced section, connecting two Central Valley locations, many rail supporters felt Newsom was saying the train would never connect to LA or San Francisco.
The 17th Place Townhomes helped bring more attention to a newly christened neighborhood, Eastchester, that’s beginning to blossom, and includes restaurants, coffee shops, and new businesses. In this formerly industrial stretch of town, business owners are finding new uses for old buildings, including Cafe Smitten, another Smith project, and Dot x Ott, a just-opened seasonal kitchen that sources its produce from a farm 10 miles away.
Though tiny, the downtown turnaround is palpable, says Debbie Lewis, a wealth manager who moved back to Bakersfield a few years ago.
“The downtown that I grew up hearing about and knew as a young adult was a ghost town that people were hesitant to visit and a place that businesses had a hard time sustaining,” she says. “Now, it appears to be growing at a slow but steady pace and an inspiring amount of businesses have are continuing to decide to take that leap, get creative, and get in on the action. People are starting to see the positive impact of investing more care, money, and time in our downtown.”
While the city’s current growth spurt has been out, not up, as nearby farmland has been turned into housing developments, there are a lot of buildings with good bones downtown, according to Gunnar Hand, an urban designer with architecture and planning firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Hand led a team that devised a new downtown plan for Bakersfield in 2016, in anticipation of the arrival of high-speed rail. They found the beginning stages of placemaking investments had already laid the groundwork for the nexus of new downtown development.
“This is, for lack of a better term, a third-tier city that’s only now coming around to urban revitalization,” says Hand. “Los Angeles is 20 to 30 years into revitalizing its downtown. Kansas City, [Missouri], my hometown, is 10 years in. Bakersfield is in, like, year one.”
Moving back and making a new start
When talking to Bakersfield residents who left town for college or careers and have now returned as older adults, affordability is a constant theme.
It helps in California to have housing that’s actually affordable. With a median home value of $241,000 as of last March, and median starter homes beginning at just $145,300 according to Zillow, it’s no surprise that the median age of a first-time buyer in Bakersfield is just 33. The city’s sprawling growth pattern has played a big role in creating cheap housing; as the city and metro region grew out, Bakersfield’s population ballooned from 70,000 in 1970 to more than 380,000 today.
According to NAR researcher Nadia Evangelou, these newly arrived millennials can afford to buy nearly 15 percent of homes currently listed for sale in Bakersfield, compared to only 4 percent in Los Angeles.
“Millennials still move to big metro areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco,” she says. “But we see that they don’t stay in these areas, because of weak affordability conditions.”
But the real draw goes beyond affordability. Cheaper housing enables many of the Bakersfield boomerangs to buy rather than rent, have a better quality of life, and start businesses, all of which might be unaffordable in other California cities.
For Jessie Blackwell, a cofounder of Dot x Ott, the seasonal restaurant and market just a few blocks from the 17th Place Townhomes, now is the perfect time to open a new kind of business in town. The restaurant, which opened last month, is taking advantage of the region’s wealth of farms and fresh produce in a way that just wasn’t really done here just a decade ago
“There’s a food movement here,” she says. “You can see it in the revitalization of downtown, and the handful of farm-to-table restaurants that have come to town. In the last five years, you’ve just seen this boom in farmers markets and so many more local options.”
Melissa Delgado is a product manager for an agriculture company who returned to town in 2011 after studying in San Diego. She found that the city, with its low cost of living, was perfect for growing her career. With the $2,000 or more she would be spending per month on rent elsewhere, she’s been able to buy a house.
“When I first came back here, I hated it,” she says. “I wanted to go right back to the city. But I’ve been able to grow my career here, and the style of living is just so much better.”
Daniel Cater, an architect and designer who recently returned to town with his wife three years ago, has found great opportunity since moving home (Smith hired him to design the townhome project).
“You’re beginning to see a city of half a million support innovation and change,” he says. “For me, it’s exciting to watch a city that hasn’t really found itself, where the entrepreneurial spirit is alive. It’s fun to be in a place where you can get to know the people making an impact, and make an impact yourself.”
Placemaking and the Padre Hotel
Most of the Bakersfield residents interviewed for this story noted that a lot of the new energy downtown comes from people who have returned after moving away, not a flood of new arrivals from other parts of the state or country. There’s still a relatively tight-knit circle of businesses and entrepreneurs in town, often built on local networks. Smith’s dad, for instance, is city Councilmember Bob Smith. And compared to the urban renaissances touted in other cities, Bakersfield’s new developments are not linked to any kind of broad apartment-building boom or big economic expansion yet.
But the catalysts for such change seem to be in place: Two local groups, Kern Economic Development Corporation, a traditional local business group, and Be In Bakersfield, a grassroots nonprofit that promotes new local businesses, have started marketing the city as a place of opportunity.
With some additional investments in transit and placemaking, Bakersfield also has the potential to truly activate its downtown. According to SOM’s Hand, when the firm studied the city in 2016, it found that much of the infrastructure for downtown growth was already finished or in the works. As part of a larger community redevelopment project, Bakersfield developed Mill Creek, a River Walk-style public space and linear park lined with theaters and new businesses. It opened in 2010.
Many of SOM’s suggestions—to create new transit links, connect the city’s already impressive bike lane network, and tie together disparate parts of downtown—have already been done or are in development.
“Our main suggestion was to create infill that brings together Mill Creek with the downtown core,” he says. “That’s already happening now, without the rail station being built.”
In addition to larger urban plans setting the table for more dense development, the successful redevelopment of the Padre Hotel also served as a marker and milestone for downtown. A landmark from the ’20s that reopened in 2010, the ornate hotel at 18th and H streets, a four-star property in the Central Valley, showed many that the city’s stock of old buildings held promise.
“The 17th Place Townhomes and the Padre Hotel are landmark projects for a town this size,” says Hand. “They signal something to the market that didn’t exist before, and it’s starting to snowball. There are local developers taking note.”
Continuing challenges to building a better Bakersfield
Bakersfield has gained momentum, but it still has a ways to go. Like many Central Valley cities, such as Merced, it’s pushing to diversify economically and build new industries, as well as regain the attention of state government after being ignored for many years.
As part of a larger demographic trend statewide, however, these Central Valley cities have seen more attention from new arrivals. Interior metros like Riverside, Fresno, and Sacramento have seen net domestic migration rise from 2012, when this region collectively lost 4,000 people, to 2017, when 38,000 arrived. At the same time, coastal parts of California have grown at a much slower pace, two-thirds less in 2017 than in 2012.
To capitalize on its growing population, Bakersfield’s economy needs to expand beyond health care, agriculture, and oil, and the region needs to invest in creating a more educated workforce. According to the Brookings Institution, among those ages 25 to 34 in the Bakersfield area, 29 percent are in poverty and only 14 percent graduated from college. The city’s persistent problems with air pollution, some of the worst in the state and nation, give potential residents pause.
“We have historically relied on cyclical industries like oil and agriculture, but the truth is, that’s not the future of where the world is moving,” says Anna Smith, a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian, and Austin’s wife. “We need to diversify, and bringing new minds here who have lived in other places is key to the 21st century.”
Anna Smith, like others, has pinned some hope on Newsom’s commitment to the Central Valley, including high-speed rail and other economic plans. Proposals at the local level, like Measure N, an initiative to revive state-funded community development, and a forthcoming update to the city’s general plan, could help finish out some of the placemaking plans SOM and others have proposed to knit together Bakersfield’s downtown.
“Newsom has the opportunity to show us that he can make connections here,” says Smith.
Coming back to feel more connected
The small cadre of new businesses, and Bakersfield residents returning home, suggests a similar story—like those in places like Memphis, Tennessee, or Louisville, Kentucky—is starting to play out. Bakersfield hasn’t had a downtown boom, at least not yet, but the seeds have been planted.
As Debbie Lewis, the wealth manager, suggests, there’s a hunger among young adults to make a mark on their environment.
“They don’t just want to be one of the millions of people swallowed by social media and all the reminders that we’re broke and don’t have any money,” she says. “All that negativity is pushing people to connect with a place and make a difference, and I think that’s possible here in Bakersfield.”
Or, as Anna Smith suggests, affordability isn’t the entire answer, it’s just the beginning. Without the pressure to pay for increasingly high rents, having more time to focus on passion projects and community engagement makes a real difference.
“If you want to say it’s just about affordable housing, that’s not all there is the Bakersfield,” she says. “Young professionals can come here, start a business, and find lower barriers to entry. Most importantly, they can feel connected to the community and make a real impact.”