Fresno plans downtown makeover

Fresno plans downtown makeover

$30 million project would bring housing and restaurants.

By Russell Clemings
The Fresno Bee
March 29, 2004

Fresno city officials are reviewing two competing proposals for a 5-acre
development that would result in the first new downtown housing in more than
two decades, plus tens of thousands of square feet of new restaurant and
shopping space.

Tentatively named “Broadway Row,” the taxpayer-assisted project is seen as a
cornerstone of the city’s 2-year-old Vision 2010 plan, an attempt to revive
the city’s neglected downtown.

“Housing is a critical component of downtown revitalization and rebirth,”
Mayor Alan Autry said. “In fact, it’s an essential component. Without it, we
cannot have true revitalization.”

The project would cover 21/2 square blocks between Stanislaus and Tuolumne
streets, from the Union Pacific railroad tracks to the alley between Fulton
Street and Broadway.

City officials say they expect to choose one of the two competing
developers — A.F. Evans Inc. of San Francisco and Tutelian & Co., the
developer of Fresno’s Civic Center Square — by the end of next month.

After that will come lengthy negotiations over final details of the project
and its cost, part of which is likely to be paid by future property tax
revenues resulting from the project or from other public sources.

Whichever developer is chosen, city officials say the final project probably
will look quite different from the initial proposals that each submitted.

Nevertheless, some clues about the ultimate look of Broadway Row can be
gleaned from an examination of the two proposals and the features they
share. Both would:

Construct a mix of new housing and retail space, including restaurants.
Incorporate two historic buildings — the Dale Bros. building on H Street,
with its landmark coffee can on the roof, and the Parker-Nash building on
the northeast corner of Broadway and Stanislaus Street. Tutelian’s proposal
also would include the Mayflower Hotel on Broadway at Tuolumne Street.

Create pedestrian walkways through the middle of each block between
Stanislaus and Tuolumne streets.

Include loft-style apartments suitable for living and working.

Concentrate their parking spaces in a lot between H Street and the railroad
tracks, or on the major streets, or in the middle of each housing block,
hidden from public view.

The overall effect is that of a pedestrian-friendly urban village with
lively sidewalk traffic but also interior courtyards that provide more

Despite their similarities, however, there still are significant differences
between the two plans, said project manager Michael Sigala of the city’s
Housing and Community Development Division.

“The proposals are really two different proposals,” Sigala said.

The Tutelian plan has far more retail space, 30,800 square feet, compared
with less than half as much, 14,050 square feet, for the Evans proposal.

The Evans version’s 174 housing units would be rentals, whereas Tutelian’s
120 units would all be owner-occupied.

Sigala emphasized that in either case, the initial proposals likely will
undergo heavy revision, under city supervision, once a developer is chosen
and a final plan is prepared. That process is expected to take about four
months and result in a formal development proposal to be considered by
Fresno the City Council.

Whatever the outcome, when completed, the project will place significant
amounts of new housing downtown for the first time since the 88-unit
Huntington Condominiums were built in 1980 and the 220-unit Santa Fe Villa
apartments in 1978 on the opposite side of downtown, where Huntington
Boulevard crosses Freeway 41.

In the Vision 2010 plan, city officials pledged to invest $30 million in
downtown before the end of this decade in a variety of mixed-use projects
and other improvements.

That plan’s features include new construction in Chinatown and Armenian
Town, a promenade along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks,
and a river walk and lakes complex southeast of Grizzlies Stadium.

Just last week, an Ohio developer announced plans for a $350 million to $400
million retail, housing and entertainment complex in the area designated for
the river walk and lakes.

The Broadway Row project will be less than one-tenth of that project’s size,
at an estimated $30 million. But its importance is disproportionate because
it is seen as an anchor for the entire Uptown district, the 16-block area
that Vision 2010 sees as the cultural hub of downtown, with its theaters,
museums and proposed main public library.

“If completed, Broadway Row will significantly enhance the revitalization of
the Uptown Arts District and serve as a catalyst for additional residential
development throughout Downtown Fresno,” the city’s project description

“We have to get folks living downtown,” Autry said, “and to do that, we have
to have a downtown that makes people want to live there, and we have to have
some housing available there for them.”

At present, ownership of the project area is held by nine private property
owners, including Cornerstone Church and John S. Foggy, owner of the Trade
Center building at Fulton and Tuolumne streets.

Not all are pleased; the owner of two H Street properties is wary of the

Matthew Maroot’s family has owned Jon Jon’s Banquet Hall and an adjacent
building since the mid-1970s and would like to stay put.

Whether the family will have a chance to do that is uncertain; among the
tools at the city’s disposal is the power to seize property from unwilling
sellers through the process of eminent domain.

“I’m in limbo right now. I’ve been in limbo for months now. It’s frustrating
as heck,” Maroot said. “We’ve been down here on H Street for 26, 28 years,
and it’s been pretty quiet.

“We deserve to be part of this project, but no, they want to wipe us out and
put a strip mall in there.”

The reporter can be reached at [email protected] or 441-6371.