Fresno’s Fulton Mall

Fresno Bee: “For a spell, the plan worked. The mall was packed, and commerce thrived. Some businesses bragged that sales had risen by 40%. But by the end of the 1980s, all the major retailers were gone, their spaces filled by discount stores — or nothing at all.

It’s time now for the Fresno City Council to end this noble but unsuccessful venture and approve Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s plan to return vehicle traffic to Fulton.

The mayor has secured $16 million in federal grants to turn the six-block pedestrian mall into a two-way street — one with beautiful landscaping and sidewalks wide enough to accommodate the people who work and shop there now.”

I’m one of the folks that believes in the Fulton Mall. The plan to rip it out makes me sick. I don’t know what else to say.

This won’t fix downtown. For a thriving downtown you need to attract people, people that need services. How does ripping out the mall magically make businesses and, more importantly, people show up? Sure, it will attract a crowd, for a while, human curiosity and all, but what happens next? Where is the real plan? The plan to attract businesses and people downtown? That seems more important.

Remember the stadium project? That was supposed to fix downtown. Did it? No, it did not. What makes city leaders believe one street will fix it?

If they do this, I hope it works, but I just can’t see it happening and we will have lost yet another unique space in the Valley.

5 Replies to “Fresno’s Fulton Mall”

  1. The city has tried many times to do something with downtown Fresno. I know a couple of people that were involved with the big push back in the 80’s; couple of police officers and a local pastor/community leader. They did a great job, but it took a lot of effort. The police went door to door and several members of the church community put their money where their mouths were and purchased homes in the area. They literally tried to change the area from the inside out. Valiant effort in my opinion, but it didn’t last.

    Like you, I think it’s a shame to see the area get bulldozed in favor of something new and different. But ask yourself, when was the last time you supported the downtown area? I hardly ever go down there. I’ve been to one baseball game, and grabbed some dinner down there, but that’s it. It’s easy to rail against someone’s decision, but honestly people like you and me are part of the problem, not part of the solution. If we truly believed in the downtown area we wouldn’t spend all our entertainment dollars in places liver River Park or one of the several other similar areas. No, we’d be downtown using the facilities, the restaurants, and so on.

    The downtown area is pretty bad. I’ve been down there at night. Not someplace I’d feel safe for my wife and kids. The area is full of pawn shops and bail bonds businesses. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not where most people go to kill a few hours strolling from shop to shop.

    I understand what you’re saying, and even support the idea of keeping downtown Fresno alive, but honestly what would you do? Fresno has been trying for 30 years and made little to no headway. In fact, they’ve netted less than zero. What would you have them do? You and I are as much to blame as anyone. Think about it.

  2. Jerry,

    I complete agree with this statement “You and I are as much to blame as anyone. ” That is 100% correct. I also understand your concern for safety, all big cities have these same issues in downtown areas. I honestly believe this is a move to run the homeless out of downtown, but you’ll never hear anyone say that. But I digress.

    i think the way to revive it is to pull a few medium sized, or a couple large, employers into downtown by offering them GIGANTOR tax incentives to move in. Maybe the city helps with some renovation of some of the buildings? Heck, they should move City Hall right downtown. That’s a statement.

    I think getting businesses to relocate downtown is the first proper step toward attracting other services. People need to eat, and like to shop. I loved working in downtown Seattle because I could walk out the door and had my choice of 100’s of restaurants within walking distance. I believe pulling professionals downtown is the right move.

    The work Bitwise is doing is commendable. I hope they manage to create a big presence right in the middle of downtown Fresno. I believe that’s their goal.

    Look, if I lived up there and had the ability to run a standalone business I’d move it downtown, I’d encourage you to do the same.

    Thanks for the comment. You make a lot of great points. I kind of wish you’d posted it to your weblog.

  3. Rob, I’m not sure what you mean about City Hall. It is downtown. Regarding attracting businesses, there are property owners and businesses (so I’ve been told) that are ready to move to a Fulton Street as soon as it’s greenlit. The data from other cities suggests removing the pedestrian malls will be a good move economically. Anecdotal evidence from local business owners suggests the same. One of the problems with your suggestion of giant tax breaks and city-funded renovations is that there’s no money for that, at all (the TIGER grant that funds restoring traffic can only be used for that purpose). Downtown should contribute to the city’s tax revenue, not drain it (as it does currently). The Fulton Street solution is the most economical solution, in my opinion.

  4. Conlan,

    Thanks for adding to the discussion.

    What I meant by moving City Hall downtown was moving some city offices down into the Fulton Mall area. Maybe that’s already the case?

    I hope transforming Fulton works, I really do. If it does I’ll be the first to sing its praises.

    Do you know why businesses are holding off on moving downtown? Is it really the street? Do they believe that much in the change?

  5. I believe the City does have some office space on the mall, but I’m not sure.

    For many retail businesses, the street really is a big deal. Right or wrong, the perception of vehicle access is powerful in Fresno culture. I don’t have firsthand information from any businesses (other than Peeve’s, for example), so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.

    Fulton is unique among among downtown streets because it’s the only one with long stretches of uninterrupted ground floor business space. It was built as a Main Street, and (ironically) because of its status as a pedestrian mall, it’s been mostly immune to the wanton demolition and crappy building practices of the past 50 or 60 years. Nearly everywhere else you look downtown there are big gaps along the sidewalks, with either parking lots, driveways, long solid walls, or other generally up inviting features.

    None of the serious proponents of traffic that I’ve talked to consider it “the solution” to downtown’s problems, because there is no “the” solution. But it’s a piece of a larger puzzle. For whatever it’s worth, you mentioned Bitwise, and I know that they (or Jake, at least) are a big supporter of traffic.

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