California Dreaming, the Upland Way

City of Upland, CA

The City of Upland is nestled in the foothills of California’s ruggedly beautiful San Bernardino County. The city is renowned for countless reasons – whether it is the surrounding natural beauty of witnessing Mt. San Antonio’s snowcapped peaks in the winter, or the appreciation of strolling through a historical neighborhood under a canopy of mature Camphor street trees dotted with rock curbs and picturesque 100-year old Victorians and American Bungalow homes. Perhaps it is when you realize that driving on Historic Route 66, which bifurcates Upland, you are not simply on another road, but actually on a piece of Americana.

Since its incorporation as a city in 1906, this quaint farm town, known for its prized lemons and orange yields, grew into an all American California city. Many remnants from its past have been preserved and stand as a testament to this town’s perseverance and character, such as Historic Downtown Upland, where eclectic merchants offer everything from vintage finds to fine dining and entertainment at the Grove Theater; the Cooper Regional History Museum where local and indigenous history is on display; the many family parks; a historic and fully restored Carnegie Library; a Class 1 bike trail; and other attractions for residents and visitors to partake in and enjoy. The city is enormously popular with locals, tourists, and businesses eager to take advantage of its outstanding Southern California location with convenient access to the I-10 and I-210 Interstate Highways and the Ontario International Airport.

What a difference a year can make! Since being profiled by Business in Focus last February, the City of Upland keeps making great strides in its economic development efforts. It has expanded existing local businesses, attracted new entrepreneurs through various growth initiatives, seen an expansion of San Antonio Regional Hospital, and welcomed the Snaptown App, which markets and promotes local businesses offerings, sales and interactive events.

In an effort to continue its economic development success, the city hired Tierra West Advisors, a prominent economic development consulting firm, and initiated a five-year economic development action plan to help guide growth which would address the various needs of businesses and residents as determined by a recent economic development survey completed on January 31, 2020. The survey was composed of twenty-eight questions including ‘How would you rate the city of Upland as a place to do business at this time?’

“We didn’t really have a focused plan, and in the economic sustainability element of our General Plan, we have a policy of preparing a Five-Year Action Plan, so we are undergoing that right now,” says Robert D. Dalquest, Upland’s Development Services Director since February 2019. The city has completed portions of the Five Year Action Plan including five public outreach workshops at strategic locations throughout the city as well as outreaching to the Chamber of Commerce and the local merchant board of Historic Downtown Upland, with the purpose of creating a roadmap of what the community wants from an economic development standpoint and ensuring the city’s resources and efforts are focused in those areas.

Another economic development tool Upland is utilizing to help local small businesses grow and prosper is partnering with the Inland Empire Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to provide valuable technical assistance to new and existing businesses, one-on-one business counseling, and several business training events, free of charge, for interested members of the community.

Remarkably, some of Upland’s structures date back a century or more and the city has taken significant preservation measures to save these charming old buildings for future generations to enjoy. Most of these structures are concentrated in Upland’s historic downtown core. To that effect, the city created a Historic Downtown Revitalization goal and developed the Business Attraction and Assistance Program (BAAP) and the Commercial Rehabilitation Program (CRP) to act as catalysts for downtown redevelopment and halting blight. These programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The federal CDBG program provides states, counties and cities grant entitlement funding to undertake endeavors that benefit low to moderate income persons or areas. “We are revitalizing the downtown, one building at a time, and we generally assist a couple of buildings a year as funding permits,” says Liz Chavez, the Development Services Manager with the city for the past eighteen years.

The BAAP provides new sales tax generating businesses, such as restaurants and retail, seeking to locate or expand in Historic Downtown Upland the ability to apply for a city loan of up to $50,000 to be used for working capital, purchase of business equipment and/or tenant improvements. In exchange for loan funding, the business must create and retain a set number of jobs to be held or made available to low to moderate income area residents for up to two years. If, after the two years, all the job creation and retention goals have been met by the business, the city can forgive the loan. Three companies have benefited from the program, and the city’s rehabilitation administrator is presently working with applicants to get more projects underway in 2020.

In a different vein, the CRP provides a new or existing business located in Historic Downtown Upland with up to $30,000 in grant funds to rehabilitate the façade of their buildings. In exchange for program assistance, the applicants must sign a five-year maintenance covenant with the city to upkeep the property free of blighted conditions. CRP improvements include new business signage, stucco and painting, exterior lighting, window and door replacement, and more. To date, a dozen tenants and/or property owners have participated in the program. The synergy these programs are creating in the downtown is yielding results and transforming the downtown into another viable economic center.

On other commercial fronts, Upland’s business sector continues to boom, recording major expansions at Ford of Upland and at other business centers throughout the city. Due to increasing sales, Ford of Upland outgrew its current location at 555 W. Foothill Boulevard, prompting their construction of a new 23,285-square-foot, state-of-the-art auto dealership off the I-210 highway at Campus Avenue on approximately 5.8 acres of land in the heart of The Colonies Crossroads mega shopping center. “They are moving their new car sales from Foothill to this new facility,” says Dalquest. “The facility on Foothill will still be for fleet sales with a collision center, and they will also sell pre-owned vehicles there, so they will still be on that side of the city as well. All the new Ford sales and service of those vehicles will move to the new Ford dealership site.” The new Ford dealership is expected to be completed later this year.

Big changes are also underway for Mountain Green Shopping Center at 357 South Mountain Avenue. The former tenant Kohl’s vacated the center and Pegasus Investment, the new property owner, is planning to reconfigure and update the center, transforming the former Kohl’s space into an EOS gym facility. A Panera Bread restaurant, Chick-fil-A restaurant, 7-Eleven convenience store with a service station, and a new carwash are also being added to the center. In another part of town, at the recently completed Sycamore Hills Plaza and home to the area’s first Whole Foods 365 Grocery store, a new Wendy’s restaurant with a drive-through has opened with an adjacent Chipotle restaurant in the works. This new Wendy’s provides a unique takeout experience, where customers will place orders online for pick-up at the drive-through. “You can’t just drive up like you can with any drive-through an order,” states Dalquest. “It is almost like a pick-up service, and Chipotle is also experimenting with that.” Other major changes are occurring at the Upland Village Center at 229 E. Foothill Blvd., originally built over fifty years ago. The aging center’s multi-million-dollar upgrades will include a 35,000-square-foot addition to accommodate a yet-to-be-named supermarket tenant. The same center will also welcome a drive-through Starbucks in the near future.

Founded in 1907 and rated as one of San Bernardino County’s top medical centers, San Antonio Regional Hospital (SARH) continues to expand to meet the ever increasing health needs of area residents. In 2017 SARH opened its four-story Vineyard Tower as part of a $160 million dollar upgrade. This project includes adding twelve intensive care units and increasing the emergency department’s beds from thirty-four to fifty-two. Late last year, SARH was pleased to host the grand opening of City of Hope Inland Empire Cancer Center, at 1100 San Bernardino Road. This newly built 25,000-square-foot cancer facility is the hospital’s premier tenant. In addition to providing surgical specialties and medical oncology, SARH supports the new cancer center and provides ‘a one-stop shop for patients who need diagnostic testing and preoperative services,’ according to a media release. Additionally, the state-of-the-art City of Hope cancer center shortens the waiting time for patients who need oncology treatment and spares them the drive to Los Angeles. The medical center adds a valuable economic stimulus to the region by providing gainful employment opportunities for people in the area.

Cable Airport is another long-time business in the area that continues to expand. The airport was founded seventy-five years ago by Dewey and Maude Cable and claims the title of the ‘world’s largest, family-owned public-use airport.’ The airport received grant funding of about $1 million from the FAA through its Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The improvements will be performed in two phases and include rehabilitating an apron, demolishing an old 1940s hangar, and re-grading the area to fix drainage issues. The second phase of the improvements will see the construction of a new hangar in the area.

Through public workshops and the business development action plan, the city is learning what residents want from businesses to attract people to Upland. The wish list includes specialty stores, private enterprises, start-ups, and a quality hotel, preferably with conference room facilities. “A lot of citizens who spoke at meetings really want to have destination-type businesses that will draw people – not only serving the community but drawing people to the area – who might end up frequenting other businesses if they’re coming in from out of town,” says Rosemary Hoerning, Upland’s Interim City Manager. “They also indicated a hotel so that people could stay in the area, go skiing, or visit their family at nearby colleges. We have a couple of small hotels in town, but we don’t have a middle grade/high-grade facility, something that is really needed.”

The city is preparing a request for proposal to address the demand for hotels in the area and is researching potential customers, the number of rooms required, amenities, the level of hotel, and more. A consulting firm will conduct a market study, which can be presented to interested hotel developers to entice them to locate in Upland. “Before they even start doing any homework, there will be a report that shows this is sustainable, and they should really look at that seriously,” says Hoerning. “People who live here really like the city and believe there is a great opportunity for additional types of amenities that would further develop and make the City of Upland a stronger place to live, work, and play.”

In today’s world, a cyber presence is a must to compete and be relevant in ever evolving social media platforms. The City of Upland and the Upland Chamber of Commerce collaborated and brought the Snaptown App and Shop Upland campaign to the city to assist local businesses in advertising, promoting and engaging with customers in real time. To date, over eighty area businesses are part of the Snaptown App and the Shop Upland campaign. Local merchants can send text messages through the app to promote specials, advertise, showcase events, market the city, and much more. Additionally, the city attended the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention last September in Los Angeles to further promote the city to developers seeking new investment opportunities. Upland representatives regularly promote the Historic Downtown Upland merchants association events and sponsor Small Business Saturday, held in late November, which attracts about seven thousand visitors to downtown and encourages them to shop local. To further promote local businesses, in another joint venture the city and the chamber are in the process of creating a large foldout map of Upland to feature points of interest and advertisements from local businesses to hand out to the public.

As businesses continue to flourish in Upland, and people desire to call Upland home, the city will continue to grow to accommodate a diversifying population’s needs. From modest beginnings, Upland transformed from a small farm town to an all-American California city that works for its residents, businesses and visitors alike – that’s called the Upland Way.

September 23, 2020, 4:48 AM EDT