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On Oct. 21, we celebrated the re-opening of Fulton Street, downtown Fresno’s main street. It was quite a party.
We started with the obligatory speeches from elected officials and yours truly. We had a Draggin’ the Main car cruise. There were 14 pop-up businesses in vacant storefronts. Twenty-five local bands donated their time and talent to get us singing and dancing. We had a beer and wine garden, and an Ale Trail beer tasting from the five current and incoming breweries. The most important component of all was the 10,000-15,000 people who came downtown to celebrate this huge step forward in our community’s efforts to revitalize our downtown.Let’s quickly recap why we re-opened Fulton Street, removing the pedestrian-only mall. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, 189 cities tried the pedestrian mall experiment. By the time we looked into the best solution for revitalizing downtown Fresno, 175 of the pedestrian malls had been removed. We found that once traffic was restored to a downtown main street, the downtowns revitalized in four years or less. There was a clear path forward. Put traffic back onto a main street and it springs back to life. Access, visibility, and traffic circulation are a key to the business district’s success.
So the morning after the Fulton Street Party, the questions and comments started flooding in. When will new businesses open? When will the old buildings be renovated? When will more events happen?
Our first priority is to help our existing businesses. We’re working with several to help them to take advantage of the easier process to expand outdoor dining. Los Panchos is doing a façade renovation and adding a patio. Take 3 Burgers has added a patio and has a new beer license. Just the Tip is applying for their beer license and will add outdoor seating. Casa de Tamales will expand their beer and wine license to include outdoor seating, too. Outdoor dining adds life to a downtown and adds more seating to help the restaurants succeed, and beer and wine add an additional revenue stream incentive to stay open later.
Two new restaurants are working their way through the City’s planning process and will open at Mariposa and Fulton in the former Payless Shoes location. This building will be renovated and will be renamed Renoir Corner to highlight La Grande Laveuse, the Renoir sculpture that sits in front of the building. A wine bar featuring local wineries and a bar featuring hard ciders are also talking to building owners as they look for a location on Fulton Street. We’ve had inquiries from over 45,000 square feet of new office tenants that would like to move into the area. New investors have been touring downtown looking for buildings to purchase and renovate as well.The next event for the new Fulton Entertainment District is the 88th annual Fresno Christmas Parade. The parade will return to Fulton Street, which will give the event a new energy as it moves through the downtown businesses and historic buildings. Come down on Saturday, Dec. 2 starting at 11 a.m. or watch it live on KSEE24. Ideaworks had a very successful pop-up during the Fulton Street Party and will return during the parade with Santa’s Worshop. Bring the kids to make their own toys!
The next activity will be the December ArtHop on Thursday, Dec. 7 starting at 5 p.m. The monthly open art studio and gallery party will also feature a return of the pop-up jazz and craft cocktail club Lil’ Bourbon Street in the T.W. Patterson Building. The first Thursday of every month is a really fun time to come downtown to see the action.As much as we’d like to see all of our beautiful downtown buildings restored, this will take time. The Downtown Fresno Partnership is prioritizing the one- and two-story buildings to fill them with businesses that will jumpstart our revitalization. These buildings will cost less to get going, and the real goal of a downtown is to activate the sidewalk. We want fun businesses that will add to our nightlife and vitality.
As these begin to fill, the bigger buildings can justify the cost of renovation. This takes time, of course, but revitalization is a continual process. So hang in there with us. The best way to help is to come support our existing businesses and the new businesses that are moving in. Come enjoy the process of revitalization—it’s been a long time coming!