“We have been here in a land of uncertainty and neglect for long enough.”
The PBID Partners of Downtown hosted the State of Downtown Breakfast in the packed Fresno Ballroom. Fresno’s mayor, Ashley Swearengin, was the keynote speaker for the event. Mayor Swearengin reported to the attendees on the city’s efforts to revitalize downtown Fresno. She also went into detail about how she plans to continue to spread the message of revitalization, attract and retain talent, and stabilize the city’s finances; all while preserving Fresno’s farmland and agricultural economy.
TOWARDS THE RIGHT DIRECTION
While the city has a long way to go, Mayor Swearengin says Downtown Fresno has recently had some success in attracting new investors and residents.
The area has seen the opening of several local businesses. The indie craft store, Twee Too, is located inside the new coffee shop, Fresno Brewing Company. Heroes Sports Bar turned into the classier restaurant, Brick. The entertainment venue, Fulton 55, has made downtown more vibrant after business hours. The Iron Bird Cafe, and The Lamp Post, lastly, have re-opened.
Residential lofts have been been constructed in the Mural District, such as the Iron Bird Lofts, Fulton Village, the Vagabond Lofts, and Studio 64. Developer, Romi Baghgegian, transformed an abandoned building into the Mayflower Lofts.
PLANS FOR 2012
For 2012, Mayor Swearengin will focus on attracting new investors and dealing with the recent lost of the redevelopment agency.
There will be events in attempt to lure more residents to downtown. The Fresno chile festival and bungee jumping at the Fulton Mall will take place this summer. There tours inside downtown lofts on February 25th and 26th. The mayor will work on improving visitors’ experiences in downtown by lowering the fees for garages. The aim is to encourage less cars to park on the street.
The top priority for this year will be choosing an alternative option from the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan (FCSP). The FCSP describes three options (more detail below) for the future of the Fulton Mall. The FSCP has, recently, been moved into the environmental review phase. The preferred plan will be chosen and adopted in the fall of this year.
WHY THE FULTON MALL?
Mayor Swearengin says the Fulton Mall should remain the center of the Fresno Area in order to prevent urban sprawl from continuing. Several tall, historical buildings reside on the Fulton Mall’s six blocks. People tend to visualize cities based on their historic buildings. The mayor wants to make Fresno’s brand a vibrant downtown. This will help attract more businesses to Fresno.
The Fulton Mall is also the most cost effect route for the critical mass in the area, because of its easy access to Freeways 41, 180, 168, and Highway 99.
The mayor says she hopes revitalizing the Fulton Mall will be the first key domino for long-term revitalization.
THE FULTON MALL TO-DAY
The Fulton Mall was praised for being a national symbol against urban sprawl in this 1968 documentary.
The mall, to-day, tells a different story. It is primarily known for its dilapidated appearance. There is a lack of sufficient lighting, plenty of overgrown plants, and dirty pavement. The Fulton Mall is seen as an uninviting and unsafe place to most residents and visitors.
According to the FSCP, The Fulton Mall had a vacancy rate of 26% in 2011. This is two times the city’s average vacancy rate. The mall’s average asking rent and average sales price is 25% of the national average.
Stores and restaurants receive little business on week nights and weekends. In 2008, a study concluded the Fulton Mall was performing at 6% of its economic potential.
PEDESTRIAN MALLS PREVENT REVITALIZATION
Under Option 1 of the FCSP, the Fulton Mall will be replaced with a two-lane, two-way road, oversize sidewalks and curb-side parking. Under Option 2, the city will construct a narrow two-way street, sidewalks and parking, while keeping some of the mall’s art. Under Option 3, the mall will remain pedestrian-only and the city focus its efforts on restoring the area.
Mayor Swearengin recommends Option 2. She says studies have concluded pedestrian malls are not successful for revitalization. Pedestrian-only malls have a success rate of 2.5% to 5%. Vibrant pedestrian malls are within walking distance from universities and important buildings.
Since the 1960s, the mayor says, 170 pedestrian malls have been removed in the United States. Several malls have opened up to vehicular traffic. Out of the those, 90% have experienced a significant improvement in the local economy. Positive results have been quick; vacancy rates have typically gone from 80% to 20% in two years.
THE EASIEST PATH
The question remains whether Fresno should face the issues of its blighted downtown and fix it, or ignore and pretend downtown doesn’t exist. Mayor Swearengin says the easiest path to take would be to ignore downtown Fresno and continue. Doing nothing, however, is not the right choice. “Where has it gotten us?” she asks. Ignorance has turned Fresno into the second hardest metropolitan area to find a job and the highest concentration of poverty in the state.
The mayor did not promise that the city will breeze through its efforts of revitalization. “What I know is certain, ” she says, “we have been here in a land of uncertainty and neglect for long enough.” She concluded her speech by asking residents to part ways with the past and move forward as a city.
Watch full video of Mayor Swearengin’s State of Downtown speech.
Have a lovely day in Fresno!
Veronica Stumpf, Co-Broker
DRE Lic. #01906952