Downtown center proposed

Downtown center proposed

Major developer wants to build south of stadium.

By Jim Davis
The Fresno Bee
Updated Friday, March 26, 2004, 7:21 AM

A major developer wants to create a $350 million to $400 million development
with retail, entertainment and housing in downtown Fresno south of Grizzlies
Stadium, city officials announced Thursday.

The project could include a lake, river walk or series of fountains.

Forest City Enterprises will ask the Fresno City Council on Tuesday for an
exclusive agreement to develop 85 acres south of the stadium.

City Council Member Tom Boyajian called it a “defining moment” in moving
downtown Fresno forward.

“When we voted for this baseball stadium, we really hoped something like
this would happen,” Boyajian said. The project would be in an area generally
bounded by Union Pacific Railroad, Van Ness Avenue, Tulare Street and
Freeway 41.

Forest City Enterprises, a real estate company based in Ohio, is a property
owner and partner in the River Park shopping center in north Fresno. The
company has also developed urban centers throughout the country, said Dan
Fitzpatrick, executive director of the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

“What’s very important about this project is drawing a major developer —
they’re listed on the New York Stock Exchange — to make a commitment of
hundreds of millions [of dollars] in downtown,” Fitzpatrick said.

Council Member Cynthia Sterling said the proposal dovetails with other
projects in downtown and the Regional Jobs Initiative to create jobs for the

“With this push, this will open up an opportunity to put people back to
work,” said Sterling, who represents downtown.

Known as the South Stadium project, it will be sandwiched between two other
major downtown developments.

To the west, a development group has proposed building hundreds of homes and
adding retail and commercial shopping to the historic Chinatown district.

To the east, Gunner-Andros Investments is planning to build Old Armenian
Town, a series of high-rise office buildings anchored by a state appellate

Marlene Murphy, the city’s redevelopment administrator, said the City
Council will be asked Tuesday whether to allow the agency to negotiate an
exclusive agreement with Forest City.

The project would be built in four or five phases over 10 years.

“This is not a small project,” Murphy said. “It’s the size of … Universal

Forest City, its partners and the city of Fresno have been studying the area
south of the stadium for the past 18 months.

Forest City’s partners are The Legaspi Co., Streetscape Equities and Johnson
Fain Architects.

Forest City has assets of about $5 billion. Fitzpatrick praised it as one of
the top four or five companies in the country that redevelop urban areas.

“They don’t have to worry about getting financing,” Fitzpatrick said.
“They’re self-financing.”

Fitzpatrick said council members and Mayor Alan Autry have played key roles
in persuading the company to consider investing in downtown Fresno.

Boyajian said he’s been questioned constantly about voting for the $46
million baseball stadium. He said the stadium was an investment and that the
payoff is finally occurring with this proposed development.

“The investors really see an opportunity here,” Boyajian said.

Forest City is looking at a mixed-use development including restaurants, a
multiplex theater and other commercial uses combined with downtown housing.
It could include big-box and department stores.

The company expects that the project will draw people within 30 miles of
downtown as well as people driving on the freeways to Yosemite and Kings
Canyon national parks.

The company also expects to draw traffic from the baseball stadium, the
Convention Center, the IRS building and downtown government agencies.

While the project is expected to bring in national retailers and chains,
Boyajian and Fitzpatrick said, Forest City also will seek local businesses
and small entrepreneurs.

Fitzpatrick said landmarks such as Coney Island restaurant — which has been
downtown for 80 years — “will obviously stay.”

The company in its exclusive agreement will seek the city’s help in aiding
the development including, if necessary, eminent domain to consolidate land.

Pat Cody has owned Wilson’s Motorcycles at 443 Broadway for 15 years, and
the business has been in the same location for 85 years. He had not heard
about the proposal and will withhold judgment until he sees details.

But he believes the city should have talked with businesses “who are
employing people, generating tax dollars and have been here.”

“They keep talking about bringing business in downtown Fresno, but nobody
talks to us, who have been doing business in downtown,” he said.

The reporter can be reached
at [email protected]
or 441-6171.