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Bakersfield skyline could be transformed with 35-story tower

An image provided March 16, 2017, by the city of Bakersfield shows what the new skyline could look like in 30 years under a proposal associated with planning for the high-speed rail station.

In 30 years, the Bakersfield skyline could be dominated by a 35 story skyscraper in what's now considered the northernmost edge of downtown.

That vision was laid forth in a document prepared by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the design consultant hired by the city. The project was funded through a grant from the state to prepare cities with stations along the high-speed rail route.

The plan comes in three 10-year phases. The most striking element is seen in the 30-year period, where a cluster of high rises is centered around Garces Circle, and the high-speed rail station at F Street and Golden State Avenue.

"In the 30-year plan, they are literally moving the center of the city," said transportation researcher Adam Cohen.

Cohen has been a vocal critic of the city's effort to place the high-speed rail station at F Street out of concern it would fracture the downtown and be an ineffective location for rail travelers.

What's also notable about the new plans, he said, is what's missing. In the renderings of the 30-year massing draft, there is no high-speed rail station depicted near the existing Amtrak station on Truxtun Avenue.

Currently, the Truxtun station, also known as the "downtown station" or the "hybrid alignment," is the only station that has been approved by the state. The F Street station, which the city sued the High Speed Rail Authority to design, is currently under environmental review.

Despite the review, the city has moved forward in its planning efforts assuming the state will select the F Street location.

"We've had pretty clear indication from the state that F Street is their preferred selection," said Jacqui Kitchen, Bakersfield community development director.

Additionally she claimed they did not have enough time or money to design a contingency plan for the downtown station.

"It got to a point where we just sort of had to focus our efforts, because there's only a finite amount of money available. The term of our contract with our consultant only allows us to to pick one," she said.

That was problematic to long-time transportation planner Troy Hightower.

"That is one of the weak points in my opinion of the effort that's going on right now. There is little review, if any, of the downtown station," he said.

Because of the lack of information, Hightower said he has not made a decision as to which station he prefers. He wants the high-speed rail station to be in the area where it would have the greatest economic impact.

If the station is placed at F Street, Cohen said it would require a downtown transportation corridor connecting it to the central business district, the convention center and the Amtrak station.

The city has not revealed any plans for that yet, such as light rail or a street car, but Kitchen said it's in the works.

"We're not Portland, Oregon, yet, or Seattle. But we could get there. I really think we could," she said.

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