OTAP discusses Balsam District

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

The Ridgecrest Old Town Action Plan Committee held a public meeting Feb. 12 at the Historic USO Building. About two dozen people attended.

The stated purpose was to gather downtown merchants, property owners and all other interested people to develop a plan to rename the former “Olde Towne” area the Balsam District and make it more appealing to shoppers and tourists.

The group, known as OTAP, has been meeting for about two years. Under discussion at this meeting were what branding is and how it can help downtown merchants, the Draft Downtown Action Plan, public entryway signage and other public and private improvements.

A logo has already been chosen and work done by a consultant. Ideas are still being invited and discussion welcomed.

“Ridgecrest has no ‘downtown’ per se. There are large stores spread out all over the downtown,” said Chris LeCornu, chairman of OTAP and owner of McDonald’s Restau-rant. “We want to encourage farmers’ markets, wine walks and a focused location. We want to show a vital downtown for tourism. We want to make it alive for everyone.”

In Ridgecrest’s early history, Balsam Street was the downtown area. Then the town grew in all directions away from that early downtown.

Since Balsam Street has so many small, unique businesses, the group agreed that the street would be a great draw for shoppers and tourists once it’s fixed up.

“My focus is to not have anything come out of your pocket, but to benefit your business by reinvesting in the area. It could be very light, like color touchups,” said LeCornu. “We want to bring back what Balsam Street used to be before the money ran out.”

A slide show included scenes from recent years when wine walks, street fairs and special events were held on Balsam Street. Also shown were shopping districts in other towns. Other slides showed suggested signage and changes for Balsam Street.

“This is in the early stages.” said Matthew Alexander, Ridgecrest city planner. “We don’t have numbers or a time frame as yet. We have lots of ideas on the table, including the possibility of running Balsam Street all the way through to City Hall.”

He added that he would like a high priority on putting signs on China Lake Boulevard at French Street, Norma Street and Ridge-crest Boulevard directing people to Balsam Street as “downtown.”

“People drive up and down China Lake Boulevard looking for downtown and don’t know to go over a block,” he said.

One attendee asked, “Where’s the money going to come from?”

“I used to live in a city where the city made the services of a graphic artist available to the merchants,” said Alexander.

“He took a picture of each property as it was, then did a clear overlay with suggestions for improvement,” so the owner could see how it would look.

“Once one merchant made improvements, others got on the bandwagon. Each merchant bore the cost of his own refurbishment and the project got going for very little. It costs less than you would think.”

After discussing the concerns of merchants who are renting, the group decided that the next step will be to form a merchants’ association.

The Action Plan Committee is open to new members and welcomes input from the public. The next meeting will be March 12 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, in the large conference room downstairs. You can also contact Alexander via e-mail at mlalexander@ci.ridgecrest.ca.us.

Story First Published: 2013-02-20