Equidistant from Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Riverside County was a booming area prior to the economic crash. From its agricultural roots grew a thriving exurb as people took advantage of the convenience, housing affordability, and proximity to jobs and amenities, including the beach and mountains.

The influx fueled K–12 construction, which continues. The Palm Dessert High School, designed by local firm Ruhnau Ruhnau Clarke and completed last year, was funded by state public school construction funds and Career Technology Education Grants.

But construction of most kinds have been minimal recently. “The slowing of the national and California economy has hit the city and its residents hard,” says Pam Touschner, FAIA, principal with the DLR Group in Riverside, Calif.

Today, Riverside County has a $13-million budget shortfall, thanks in part to declining property values, which have dropped for three consecutive years and are expected to fall another 2.1 percent in fiscal year 2012–13. The county has the highest foreclosure rate in the region, according to a California State University at Fullerton economic overview.

The downturn has slowed a redevelopment effort in the city of Riverside, but not before a few key projects were completed. “Riverside Renaissance brought back the historic Fox Theater and revitalized Main Street,” Touschner says. Locals hope that a renovation of the convention center will be a draw for big-ticket events and drive development of residential and hotel property in the central business district. Partially funded by a 12-percent transient occupancy tax on hotel rooms, the rehab will turn a “boxy ’70s building into a modern traditional building,” Touschner notes.

In addition to the economic challenges, there are demographic ones. The county still retains its agricultural heritage, which attracts mostly low-paying farm jobs. And the urban areas have a “challenge in establishing a white-collar job base,” meaning that many people commute to Orange County and greater Los Angeles, according to Robert Kain, principal and healthcare market leader for HMC Architects in Riverside.

One source of white-collar gigs is Esri, a geographic information system–mapping software developer based in Redlands, Calif. Local firm Armantrout Architects recently completed a new 83,000-square-foot headquarters building for the firm.

Most in the county are looking to the city of Riverside to lead the recovery. “We need to take advantage of our climate and the outdoors and create shopping and dining and entertainment,” says Roger Clarke, principal at Ruhnau Ruhnau Clarke. “There is a rich history of people who have worked behind the scenes to promote and bring the city forward and create its own identity. While its [the city’s] needs are great, it has a great deal of potential for growth with the right leadership.”