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.
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 .