Downtown brand hearkens back to roots

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Downtown brand hearkens back to rootsA new name and a vintage motif that hearkens back to the local boom of the 1940s have been unveiled in the city’s plan to brand the historic cultural center and marketplace of Ridgecrest.

“Branding is the process of selling a positive image and will play a significant role in guiding growth and development for a revitalized downtown Ridgecrest,” said City Planner Matthew Alexander, who has been working with a consultant, planning commissioners, merchants and other volunteers since the concept was outlined in the 2009 General Plan.

“Branding fosters a sense of community that makes our cultural heartland an attractive destination.”

Based on consultant Ron Smith’s assessment of our history, demographics and marketing goals, he pitched — and received tentative approval on — the new name of “Balsam District” and a winged design set in midnight blue, maroon and oxblood.

That theme seems to go along with the recently refurbished Historic USO Building, the World War II-era building that sits in the center of the district.

“The wings on the design are a little nod to the role naval aviation has played in our history,” said Alexander. “It really has a strong nostalgia factor for that late ’40s, early ’50s era.

The purpose of the Old Town Action Plan is to establish a blueprint for the revitalization of the area and make it an inviting place for visitors and residents, said Alexander. The plan focuses on the appearance of Ridgecrest Boulevard between Norma and China Lake, and on Balsam Street between Ridgecrest and Argus.

“A revitalized Old Town should include attractive streetscapes, pedestrian improvements, public plazas, attractive building facades and a mix of both commercial and residential uses,” said Alexander.

Gov. Brown’s elimination earlier this year of redevelopment agencies took away the city’s ability to fund many of these improvements, said Alexander.

He said that although the city will be investing some money to install signs, curb development, parking and street improvements, any changes to the businesses themselves will be on a volunteer basis by the owners.

“A lot can be done privately, at a relatively low cost,” said Alexander. “Our consultant suggests the Art Deco theme, which was popular during the targeted time period.” Modifications can be as simple as painting the painting buildings in the new color scheme, he said.

He pointed to Tehachapi as a great example of how a homogenous theme has improved the look of its downtown district.

“They have these wonderful wood-routed signs that tie together all their Main Street businesses,” said Alexander. He said that Tehachapi was able to procure a grant to fund that storefront facelift. “That worked extremely well for them. If they had just done things voluntarily it could have taken a year and a day. But this way there was an instant impact.”

He said the city may be able to pursue a similar funding source.

Alexander said that the purpose of the branding is not just to help stimulate economic development by attracting more local and out-of-town shoppers, but to develop a gathering place for community residents.

Balsam Street is already a popular venue for street fairs and other events. “That is one thing we are lacking right now – a lot of space for people to gather,” he said. “But that aside, Balsam Street is already very nice the way it is. With a few more improvements I think we could have a really stimulating environment that helps us attract and retain residents and visitors.”

Story First Published: 2012-12-05