Fresno Mariposa Corridor: An SCDA Update

The City of Fresno is the cultural and economic center of California’s San Joaquin Valley, and home to over 500,000 residents. Fresno has the fifth highest concentration of poverty in the nation, and Downtown Fresno faces several challenges, including private disinvestment, underperforming commerce, high vacancy rates, and diminished city funding for maintenance. However, Fresno is also poised to capitalize on several timely and unique opportunities including Mayor Swearengin’s prioritization of the revitalization of Fulton Mall, the former main street turned into a pedestrian mall in 1964. It was designed by famed architect Victor Gruen and landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, and is the site of central California’s greatest density of historic buildings as well as the future location of a high-speed rail station, just two blocks west of Fulton Mall, to connect Fresno to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Fresno’s designation as a White House Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative recipient along with several City-driven planning processes currently underway, including a General Plan update, the Downtown Neighborhoods Community Plan, and the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, have all contributed to the city’s promising development.

The City of Fresno’s Downtown and Community Revitalization Division, Public Works Department, Sevak Khatchadourian, a private developer and building owner on Mariposa Plaza, and Fresno County Economic Development Commission formed a public-private partnership and were selected by AAF to receive technical assistance for Mariposa Corridor at the 8th session of AAF’s Sustainable Cities Design Academy in San Francisco. Mariposa Corridor is the primary connector for Downtown Fresno’s future high-speed rail station and the historic Fulton Mall, Fresno’s “Main Street,” and Fresno City and County’s civic center. While the Corridor links many significant public zones in Fresno, its deteriorated and poorly designed infrastructure and vacant buildings need significant rehabilitation to revitalize Downtown Fresno to attract and retain economic development activity that could be supported by high-speed rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. During SCDA, the Fresno team worked with SCDA Resource Team experts to generate tactics to capitalize on the high-speed rail and BRT networks, including transportation and economic development planning, programming, and marketing strategies for the Mall.

Ice rink in Mariposa Plaza.

Upon returning from San Francisco, the team leveraged its SCDA charrette planning work and participation to garner major wins for Downtown Fresno. During July 2012, the City won a $2.45 million Federal Transportation Administration Bus Livability Grant. The funds will go to the Mariposa Corridor for intersection improvements at Mariposa and Van Ness, pedestrian signal lengthening, bathrooms, and a new Bus Rapid Transit center stop. The City was also awarded $1 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation, Community, and System Preservation Program for preconstruction engineering of the Fulton Mall.  The City also received $700,000 from a local sales tax measure to provide fee waivers for transit-oriented development projects in and around the Fulton Mall area.  Additionally, the team shared SCDA outcomes with the community and has started planning and fundraising with the Fresno Arts Council to activate vacant storefronts with temporary uses, including performance art and exhibitions, and plan grant applications to support physical design changes in the Mariposa Plaza public space. The Downtown Fresno Partnership, working with the City and the community, started a series of diverse programming to attract residents to the Mall’s plaza, including a building rappelling fundraiser for the Mall and the construction of an ice rink (for use during winter months).

Leveraging SCDA participation and the SC2 Fellows’ presence, the City continues to seek funding for Mariposa Corridor improvements. With those funds, the City will start comprehensive landscape planning and construction for the Mall’s further revitalization.

SCDA 2012 Fresno Project Team:
Brian Angus, Executive Director
Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission

Elliott Balch, Downtown Revitalization Manager
City of Fresno

David Cisneros, Manager of Special Projects
City of Fresno Public Works Department

Sevak Kachadurian, CEO
Beverly Hills International

SCDA 2012 Fresno Resource Team:
Leila Aman, Senior Development Project Manager

Susan Rogers, Director of Community Design Resource Center and Assistant Professor
University of Houston, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture

Clark Wilson, Senior Urban Designer
U.S. EPA – Office of Sustainable Communities

Featured image of Fulton Mall in Downtown Fresno. Courtesy of David Prasad.

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Posted in: Creative Placemaking, Economic Development, Infrastructure, Print, Public Spaces, Sustainability, Sustainable Cities Design Academy, Transportation

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.