Positive: Hesperia’s Mayor Talks Growth And Jobs, Says New Theatre Will Feature IMAX Screens.

Nikki Garrett Metzger

High Desert Daily

(Hesperia)-– The city of Hesperia has many projects in the works that will help spur economic growth and bring jobs and income to the city in the future.

Mike Leonard, mayor of the city, spoke about one of those projects, “The Ranchero under-crossing project is moving forward. We’re out to bid on the under-crossing and we’ll break ground on the 31st of August.”

“This project will build an under-crossing under the railroad tracks so that we can have another way through town, another east-west corridor. We’ve been working on it for several years. We’ve had some hold-ups with one of our state organizations. But thanks to the hard work of Scott Priester with the state and a couple of staff people at SANBAG things are moving along,” said Leonard.

“We’re working on our Ranchero interchange project, and just about done with the environmental impact study. We’re in the process of trying to buy up some right of way, so we hope to be ready to go with the Ranchero interchange in 2012,” said Leonard.

A project that is doing very well is the Gateway center at Main and the 15 freeway where Target and many other businesses are located. The first phase is nearly complete. “They are in the process of building JoAnn’s fabrics and a shoe outlet. Then we’re working on phase 2 with the developer, Lewis Companies which is a great organization. It will be more commercial, and that will expand the property and make it a bigger center. They just need to find an anchor. Once they get that everything else falls into place,” explained Leonard.

One of the most exciting projects for the city is the movie theater that is slated to go in right next to city hall. “A 12 screen theater with IMAX is going in, and I believe they will serve food, wine and beer. It is going to be right by the city park. As soon as they get the pile of dirt out of there they will be ready to go,” said Leonard. “That will help the downtown area, and I’m sure as soon as that goes in we’ll have some restaurants and other businesses that will want to build in the area.”

To promote industrial growth the city has plans for an industrial park near the railroad tracks. “We have a project that is in progress in our industrial area. We’ve had businesses that ship or receive by rail show a lot of interest. The city owns over 200 acres in that area and we’re going to build an industrial park,” said Leonard. “Rail is starting to pick up interest – it is cheaper to ship by rail over large distances.”

There are many other things in the works, including the groundbreaking ceremony for the new super Walmart next week and another project under development on the east side of the I-15, but it could all be in jeopardy if some of the plans to balance the state budget go through. Leonard explained, “There is a bill in the legislature that threatens our re-development money. If it passes it could eliminate our re-development agency,” said the mayor. “Then there is another bill, we call a ransom bill, where this year we would have to pay almost $8 million to the state, then every year after that we would have to pay $1.7 million for redevelopment. This is a very negative issue for a lot of cities, and several of them have filed lawsuits to stop it.”

“We’ve done a lot of good with our redevelopment money – we paved a lot roads, we built the city hall, the library, and the new police station. If we lose that money then there are a lot of projects that won’t be done. It will even put the Ranchero project in jeopardy,” said Leonard.

There is also good and bad news with the city’s budget. Leonard said, “Our budget is balanced with just over $7 million in reserve. On the negative side our property values have really taken a hit. They’re down almost 29%, so that has hurt our fire district quite a bit, because property taxes are income.”

“In November we are going to ask the people to approve a property assessment just strictly for fire to keep the staff we have working. If it doesn’t pass, there will be cuts. There are a couple of different ways you can go about it, but it will be 9 personnel,” Leonard said.

One of the priorities for the mayor is the city’s workforce. “I want to keep all of our people working, that is the most important thing next to public safety. We have very dedicated people working for our city and we need to keep them working. They’ve helped during this difficult time by taking pay reductions and paying more into their retirement,” said Leonard.

Looking toward the future, the mayor sees good things. “I think we’re going to continue growing, it may be slow growth as far as commercial, but I think it is going to continue to happen. Some of the things that are in the works will spur other businesses to come in, like the movie theater. When it gets done then we’re going to have restaurants that want to be nearby because we have the police station, city hall, the library and county building all in the same area, with probably 300 people per day for lunch. The restaurants really like that,” said Leonard. “So once things get moving, the movie theater and phase 2 of the Gateway center, then I think we are going to continue to have commercial growth.”

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