Casino, aluminum plant projects could bring 3,000-plus jobs to area
By Mike Lamb
LENWOOD – Motorists driving past the Lenwood Road overpass project toward Barstow see firsthand the results of decades of economic decay: Run-down buildings, businesses barely hanging on, others long closed.
There are two major projects on the horizon, however, that could change that. They put that Lenwood neighborhood at ground zero for a possible economic explosion.
The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians proposed to build a casino and resort off Lenwood Road just east of Interstate 15 about 12 years ago. The release of a final environmental impact statement last week revitalized interest in a project that if approved would spark $160 million in investment and employ 1,000 people.
Also looming is a proposal by Irvine-based Scuderia Development that targets land near the defunct Sun & Sky Country Club and golf course for a massive aluminum plant that would eventually employ 2,000 or more highly-skilled workers. The Barstow City Council voted 5-0 last month to approve the framework of a development agreement with the company.
If both, or even just one, of the those projects become reality, the ripple effect would rumble right down Main Street in Barstow to the I-15 and surrounding communities. It would also likely move in the opposite direction into the Victor Valley. But the first ripple would likely strike the Lenwood area.
Viola Busulto, who grew up in the area and delivered newspapers as a little girl, said she remembers when Lenwood was a self-sustaining community. Not only does she serve as a Barstow planning commissioner, but she also owns a barber shop on Main Street in Lenwood.
“The great thing about the casino is that people working there will live here. Housing will go up,” said Busulto. “People who have a place to work and a home will then need a place to shop.”
Busulto says she’s “trying to hang on until things do happen.”
Mohammed Alajele is new to the neighborhood. He manages the Little Depot, a hardware and home improvement store that recently opened at Frank and Main streets. He is happy for the construction of the overpass and at the prospects of the casino and aluminum plant.
“We feel great about it. Very encouraging,” said Alajele. “A lot of people coming here (Little Depot) looking for jobs. Wish we could be more accommodating.”
Mike Hamden, owner of Lenwood Discount Market, agrees.
“Anything will help,” he said. “So many people are looking for jobs in Barstow.”
Barstow’s unemployment rate stood at 11.7 percent in March, and Lenwood’s was even worse at 17.4 percent — the highest unemployment rate in the High Desert.
Delores Brea at Divine’s Market & Liquor Store says her customers have been talking about the casino for a long time.
“It would be good for the economy if we had those jobs. It would probably increase our business,” she said.
While Shop For Less clerk Annette Elizando has her doubts that either project will happen, she’s in favor of both.
“I’m for it. But I don’t think the good old boys in Barstow will let it happen,” Elizando said. “But anything that brings jobs, bring it on. If it’s the Barstow Aluminum Plant, it should hire local people. Barstow residents first.”
An employee at Jason’s Complete Auto Repair says Lenwood is an extremely depressed area. Scott Christie said the projects will “get us out of the rut many of us have been in.” While he is worried about falling property values, Christie said it’s obvious both projects mean more money and would make Barstow a better place to live.
“A lot of people don’t live here by choice,” Christie said. “It’s what they can afford.”
Affordability, jobs and housing are all on the minds of city officials, politicians and real estate experts like Carol Randall, vice president and partner with Lee & Associates. She said she believes just the possibility of these two projects becoming reality is sparking development interest in Barstow.
“Even one of those projects has the ability to change the entire face of Barstow,” Randall said. “Just the proposal of a project of this size (the Barstow Aluminum Plant) is a very positive indicator. It’s very hard to do business in California. And there is all the stuff that is going to surround this project, any project — Mr. baker and candlestick maker are going to benefit from this project.”
Randall has already seen the effects of the proposals. She has seen interest in land triple near Lenwood and along Route 66. But she said not all Lenwood residents are going to be happy with the results.
“Some people moved out there to be able to see the stars,” Randall said. “If they decide to sell, I hope they get the price they want. The value of their home is very important to them. Lifestyle is threatened. They made these choices (to live in Lenwood) years ago. They may be mourning the loss of the value of their homes and their lifestyle. And I can understand that.”
At City Hall, however, the upside of each project is appealing.
“We’re talking about 3,000 jobs, and those are permanent,” said Mayor Pro Tem Timothy Silva, who was born and raised in Barstow. He later moved to the Victor Valley but returned to Barstow in 2003. “We are talking about other businesses that can be supported from (both projects). We are looking at more jobs and rooftops. Both of those are very exciting.”
Economic development has been the No.1 priority for Barstow City Manager Curt Mitchell and his staff at City Hall. He said it’s hard to say how many businesses could spin off the two projects, but he expects major economic growth. While more traffic will follow, so will more shopping options and restaurants.
“We feel we have a lot of advantages,” Mitchell said, listing logistics and land that can accommodate commercial activity. He said the city has been working on the industrial park for a year and a half and it is prepped for expansion.
He also believes Barstow is in a good position for expansion because of transportation options between Interstate 15 and the railroad yard.
Some Barstow residents remember the 1970s, when Barstow had more residents than Victorville. Those days probably won’t return, but if either of these major projects comes to fruition, there is little doubt Barstow will never be the same.
Originally posted by the Daily Press