Before the arrival of the cranes and concrete tippers, there was nothing at the southeast corner of Truxtun Avenue and N Street, but a parking lot, a chamber of commerce building and a bold idea. .
Town leaders wanted to provide Bakersfield residents with a larger and more grandiose venue for family events than the nearby municipal auditorium. For them, an emerging metropolis deserved no less.
So great was their confidence that on the eve of a final approval vote in 1997, the city council raised the price of the building by more than $ 3 million to accommodate more restrooms, better suites and 1,000 seats. additional. The capacity would now exceed 10,000 people.
Immediately, skeptics spoke out: What major artists would suddenly consider Bakersfield worthy of a tour – and even if they did, who here could afford to buy a ticket? A complaint has been filed to stop the project.
But 20 years after comedian Bill Cosby kicked off the night of October 2, 1998, referring to the town’s ancestor, Col. Thomas Baker, there is no doubt that the now-known building under the name of Rabobank Arena delivered to Bakersfield.
Elton John has performed there three times. The Eagles, Carrie Underwood, Vicente Fernandez, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have all sold out at Rabobank.
It’s not just about music either. The building’s private management staff have booked everything from Disney on Ice to pro basketball, bull racing and ice motocross.
FOCUS FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT
Problems arose along the way. A child drowned outside the arena. A military vehicle accidentally destroyed the main outdoor water feature. A great rock band came out after someone threw a beer bottle on the stage. Even now, hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent every year to subsidize city-owned entertainment venues, including Rabobank.
But doubts? Not among the original funders of the place.
“It represents good quality entertainment, family entertainment,” said Mark Salvaggio, the former ward councilor for Ward 7, who joined his colleagues in unanimously approving the construction of the arena. “Bakersfield needed this and still needs this. Instead of going to LA or Fresno, we’re able to attract good entertainment.”
The Rabobank has also become a vital economic engine that fills hotel rooms and restaurant tables whenever it hosts major draws such as the annual state high school wrestling championships and Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions. .
Conveniently located near a Marriott hotel, convention center and theater, the downtown arena gives the city a “competitive advantage” over others trying to attract talent. events that support local hospitality jobs, said David Lyman, director of Visit Bakersfield, which organizes events at Rabobank in partnership with AEG, the Los Angeles-based company that runs the city’s entertainment venues.
Ward 6 Councilor Jacquie Sullivan recalled the “unattractive corner” that preceded the arena’s development, and how she and her concert-loving daughters had laughed at the idea that Elton John would ever be persuaded to perform in Bakersfield.
Now, however, Rabobank is part of what makes Bakersfield a city to be proud of, she said.
“It really put Bakersfield on the map,” she said. “We have amazing and wonderful amenities which benefit our families.”
The man most directly responsible for creating the $ 39 million, 200,000 square foot arena, City Manager Alan Tandy, spoke proudly of the project, its unbroken sightlines, finished floor and comfortable seats.
He listed the changes to the venue over time: more space for food and drink concessions, better lighting and electronics, more private suites.
Looking back, he sees the short-lived lawsuit brought by a small group of local residents as a typical distraction. And judging by the periodic surveys of city departments, it seems to him that Rabobank serves residents quite well.
“A year or two he even beat the fire department in popularity,” he said.
John Cox can be reached at 661-394-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.