Fresno

Fresno Is the New Gold

 

As economic developers we need to think about tech hubs, startups and downtowns....and also craft breweries don't hurt. Fresno, while often ignored, has a sense of place and geography that needs another look.

Fresno has innovative public schools, an interesting arts scene, tech startups that take advantage of the city's location and an ambitious plan to remake its downtown.

In addition, Fresno is embarking on technical training to remake the American job picture of skilled technical positions. A tech incubator is also very active with the local public schools, Fresno State and other civic groups to connect people at many stages of life with improved tech-skill opportunities. The objective is to get people ready for jobs in the highest growth industries.

Fresno is about to take apart what a previous generation thought was an innovative way to save the downtown area. It is going to dig up the pedestrian mall that had been its pride and re-open it to cars, using an adaptive new design that will enable the city to close the streets to vehicle traffic for special events.

Fresno has a wonderfully situated brewpub, indicative of having entrepreneurs and young customers who will also support other businesses downtown. It is situated next to Fresno’s downtown minor-league park

Fresno Pedestrian Mall Slated to Re-Open to Traffic

 

In February 2014, the Fresno City Council voted in favor of a project that would use a $16 million federal grant to reopen a downtown pedestrian mall to traffic.  The Fresno Fulton Mall, built in 1964, was one of the first pedestrian malls in the nation.  It pioneered the idea of fighting urban sprawl and traffic congestion by preserving an attractive open space for pedestrians.  The mall hosts a collection of fountains, mosaics, and public art, including a sculpture by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

When the Fulton Mall was closed to traffic, City officials were trying to preserve Fulton Street as the City’s main commercial corridor as residents and businesses migrated to the suburban outskirts of the city.  While initially successful, the mall declined as a regional destination and lost many large retailers over the next several decades.  Today the mall is occupied mainly by small businesses and has several large buildings with long-term vacancies.

RSG conducted an urban decay analysis of the Fulton Mall as part of the Environmental Impact Report for the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan.  RSG assessed the probable effect that three different development scenarios would have on the physical condition of the mall.  The study analyzed physical and economic conditions such as deterioration, vacancy and lease rates, taxable sales, crime, and maintenance costs.

The decision to reopen the mall to traffic was highly contentious.  Proponents argue that reopening the mall to traffic will provide much needed vehicle access and parking to revitalize businesses.  Opponents value the communal outdoor space as an area to gather and enjoy the surroundings.

What are your thoughts on pedestrian malls?  What makes some successful and others not?

Written by Suzy Kim, Associate at RSG.