Like many pedestrian Malls around the country, the Fulton Mall has long since been plagued with low rents, high vacancy rates, little to no activity after 5 p.m., poor visibility of the Mall from other streets and declining foot traffic.
The City of Fresno and the Downtown Fresno Partnership advocate for a return of traffic to this traditional, “complete” main street to improve connections, accessibility, community, sense of place and economic vitality. This decision wasn’t arrived at hastily or without a great deal of research and public input. There has been much debate over the future of the Fulton Corridor and many community sessions have been held to allow for feedback.
In September of 2013 the City of Fresno received a $15.9 million TIGER Grant from the US Department of Transportation to reintroduce traffic to Fulton.
The Fresno City Council voted 5-2 in a historic vote to open Fulton Mall to traffic. We’d like to send out a HUGE thank you to everyone who attended the Council meeting and spoke up in favor of a vibrant and accessible downtown! This historic vote was made possible thanks to widespread community support, particularly through the efforts of the I Believe in Downtown Fresno campaign. Throughout 2015, we will continue to launch campaign initiatives that support our efforts to engage Fresnans in the ongoing movement to revitalize downtown Fresno.
Below is a list of questions and answers that we hear often. If there are unanswered questions that remain, please send them to us and we will add them. Read the questions below and get answers to your questions. Download a copy of our research regarding pedestrian malls. The data show that once pedestrian malls are reopened to multi-modal traffic, 90% of cities see immediate and significant investment in the area.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant provides funding for projects that favor rail, highway and transportation programs that include multi-modal elements – those that solve more than one transportation problem.
In 2013, this highly competitive grant received 585 applications requesting more than $9 billion in funding. Only 52 of those applicants (less than 10%) were awarded funding which totaled $474 million from the US Department of Transportation. Fresno’s $15.9 million was the fourth largest TIGER grant awarded in this round.
The City’s Fulton Mall Reconstruction Project will return the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno to a complete street by reintroducing vehicle traffic to downtown’s former main street. The restoration of Fulton Main Street will occur over 11 city blocks and include bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and streetscape improvement elements. The total cost of this project is $20 million with $15.9 million being paid with the funds from the Federal TIGER grant. The remainder of the funding is expected to come from other sources including State and Measure C Transit Oriented Development sources as well as contributions from downtown property owners. No General Fund dollars will be used. Funds awarded through the TIGER grant can only be used for transportation-related projects, and only for the project as outlined in the grant application. Failure to use these funds for this project would result in returning the funds to the Federal Government.
Major work is needed and the rehabilitation alternative has an estimated cost of over $18 million. The City has analyzed a variety of potential funding sources in fields such as outdoor recreation and historic preservation, as well as Measure C. Most programs, if funded at all and assuming that the project would be eligible, fund less than $100,000; considering all sources together it is difficult to imagine assembling more than around $2 million. So while there are potential sources of some funding, there are not potential sources of enough funding.
One of the first and most prevalent arguments is simply in the value of the design. The design is exemplary in relation to landscape architecture. Had it been woven into an existing urban park rather than a commercial district, we would not be having this discussion today. While the historical and design significance of the last 49 years is important, this argument neglects the history and architecture of Fulton Street in the 90+ years prior to the mall’s installation. Where is the concern for preserving the architecture of Fulton’s historic buildings? Additionally, our research has shown that other cities who have removed their pedestrian malls have seen a very speedy recovery of the commercial district. It appears that this treasure comes with a cost that we simply can’t afford.
Opening Fulton to varying modes of transportation is simply the beginning. In no way do we believe that making this transition eliminates the need for revitalization efforts. However, we know from studying other cities, that this opens the door to other investments and development projects and private sector involvement – which is exactly what we need. The truth is, that the opening of the mall is only the beginning, it is the point where our organization can be the most effective. We will work with the property owners and the brokers to heavily recruit new tenants to fill vacant spaces. At the same time we will work with the existing business owners to ensure their viability. From retail strategies and merchandising, to financial planning and marketing, we will provide guidance to these existing businesses that have weathered this storm for so many decades. Events and marketing efforts will be crucial to the success of the new Fulton Street and we will organize a variety of these types of activities. Imagine Saturday Sidewalk sales where the entire area is buzzing with shoppers and tourists. In addition, we are seeking grant sources in hopes of being able to offer forgivable loans for facade improvements and building renovations, so that property owners will have the needed capital to invest in their buildings. Luckily, 170 other cities have removed their pedestrian malls and we can replicate their successes and avoid their mistakes. The City of Fresno is currently looking at the existing ordinances that make outdoor dining difficult for restaurant owners. The City understands that they need to encourage sidewalk cafes and outdoor dining. It is the City’s job to provide a structure that allows for the greatest success for the private business owner. It is our job, as an improvement district, to give our businesses and owners all the tools that they need to succeed. There are 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of Downtown Fresno just waiting for this downtown to become a vibrant hub.
We are currently in the design phase of the project but we have a good idea at this point. Option 1 will result in a straight street with a 28 foot sidewalk on one side and a 10 foot sidewalk on the other side. The wider side would allow for the park-like setting to be retained and both sides will allow for pedestrians, bikes, accessibility and other features such as outdoor dining. Many of the water and landscaping features will remain as they are today and the sculptures would stay in the 6 block area as well. Essentially it will be a 6 block corridor that is unparalleled in beauty, public art, and accessibility. The goal is to make the street friendly for all modes of access, vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians. There will be a net gain in trees and many of the matures trees will be untouched to retain the shade canopy that is so necessary in our warm summers. Picture a shaded street with a great deal of outdoor dining areas that favors the pedestrian but allows vehicles to slowly progress down the street.
Downtowns compete by being compact and walkable—by offering “everything in one place.” A great Main Street is the hub of economic vitality for a downtown. It is a walkable and accessible destination that creates a sense of place and supports commerce, arts and culture, and a high quality of life. A great Main Street is the anchor for a downtown.
People are quick to suggest various strategies to make the mall successful. If only businesses were recruited or incentives given, the revitalization would take place. If only there were a movie theater or nightly bands booked in Chukchansi, people would venture downtown. The problem with these recommendations is that they ignore the nature of the marketplace. Businesses move into areas that they believe will pencil out. Commerce is capitalism, which is driven by demand. After 49 years, the Fulton Mall is still not a sought after location for business owners, meaning the demand is simply not there. With lease rates as low as 50% of the area’s average and vacancy rates 2x as great as the other areas of Fresno, the Fulton Mall is a commercial failure.
Over the years, the original benches, original garbage cans, and original parts of the sidewalk have had to be removed. Shoddy façade jobs and security bars over storefronts have changed the landscape’s look and feel. Lights are failing and inadequate by design without additional light from storefronts. The City has tried and failed to operate several of the remaining fountains. Restoring the fountains to operation would require tearing up the Mall to repair the plumbing underneath. No matter what option, the “original” artwork requires destruction. The infrastructure is deteriorating. The Fulton Mall is one part of a functioning city. The city cannot remain a stagnant piece of art because it is a living organism.
The art community will play an important role in helping decide how to integrate existing (and possibly new) artwork into the new streetscape. Both of the traffic bearing options will retain all of the sculptures and some of the fountains in the 6-block Fulton Mall corridor, whether in their exact current locations or slightly relocated. Right now, the art is underutilized and underappreciated. The highly valuable Renoir statue Washer Woman, which is on display at the Musée d’Orsay as well as on Fulton Mall, is often defaced and tagged. The average Fresnan is unaware of the significance of the art on the Mall. The art needs to be treated in a way that is commensurate with its value and currently it is not. Also it is important to note that the construction budget includes funding to refurbish and reinstall the artwork, and light it property. This project is the only source of funding in the foreseeable future to do this kind of conservation work. Changing Fulton Mall will bring regional, national, and international attention to the art that we all treasure on Fulton.
Actually infill development reduces vehicle emissions overall. If we get Fulton’s buildings full again, the emissions reductions will dwarf the emissions from cars on these few blocks of the street itself. Consider the bigger picture and it becomes much more logical.
Small, independent retailers have the least ability to market themselves and therefore the greatest need to be visible to new customers. This is the basic problem this project is trying to solve. Look at the main streets in our neighboring cities and are still mainly populated with small mom and pop stores. Additionally, it is our job to assist the store owners with construction mitigation promotions, signage, marketing, and business assistance. As we research best practices, we are finding many examples of cities were the construction period brought an increase in retail activity to a district.
The Downtown Fresno Partnership produces many events annually on the Fulton Mall. In 2013 those include Cinco de Mayo, Fiestas Patrias, Sudz in the City, the Christmas Parade and the Downtown Ice Rink. We are committed to the value of these events for attracting new audiences to downtown. All over the country, events are an integral part of introducing the public to your downtown. This construction project provides the opportunity to look at the street as an intended event space and design it to include elements that will make events simpler to coordinate. All events will continue and they will be simpler to produce. Cities all over the world hold events on closed streets and transform public right of ways to a festival setting. Fulton will do exactly that.
Most pedestrian malls have been removed. 90% of cities that remove malls see “significant improvements in occupancy rates, retail sales, property values, and private sector investment in the downtown area” when streets are restored.
Oak Park, IL
South Bend, IN
A “road diet” usually means widening sidewalks and/or taking away vehicle lanes, to better balance vehicle and pedestrian accommodation. That’s what we’re talking about here, too: balance. Pedestrian malls have not balanced the needs of different travel modes, and except in a few places where heavy foot traffic alone is enough, they have mostly failed and been reopened. This has been the case for 89% of pedestrian malls in the US. The national trend is for “complete streets” that integrate people with bikes, rail, and autos without excluding any of these users.
Van Ness is a transportation corridor, a busy thoroughfare street that brings higher-speed traffic through downtown. Van Ness is not a Main Street. A Main Street is a complete street, for people, walking, driving, biking, and transit. It has wider sidewalks, slower vehicular traffic, a mix of retail and residential uses, bike lanes, trees and other place-making characteristics. The ground floor space is smaller so you can easily walk from one store or restaurant to another. Main Streets engender a feeling that they are accessible to people (via walking, biking and driving) and provide multiple options to buy goods and services. Fresno had a Main Street for many years, on Fulton. The street had stores, restaurants, hotels, and theaters, many in buildings that are still present today. Pedestrians reached these businesses along sidewalks that shared the right-of-way with four lanes of through traffic and parking on either side. This was the history of Fresno’s Main Street. Option 1 calls to create a Main Street with an even greater emphasis on pedestrians, to open the street to vehicular traffic and create on-street parking, widen the sidewalks for sidewalk cafes, plant more trees, and retain all artwork and some fountains. The projected result is $79.1 million in annual retail sales.
Right now, Fresno has a Mayor and an administration that cares about the success of downtown. The Mayor has listed downtown revitalization as one of the core priorities of her administration. This is also the first time that property owners of Downtown Fresno have created a property tax-based business improvement district, where they voted to tax themselves an additional assessment to contribute to the Downtown Fresno Partnership. The Partnership is an organization dedicated to improving downtown’s built environment, businesses, marketing, and events. The timing is now ripe nationwide as Census data and the Brookings Institute note that more and more people are moving into urban areas. Led by the millennials and baby boomers, downtown centers are experiencing resurgence.
A strong downtown is an economic powerhouse that benefits an entire region. Renowned Brookings Fellow and George Washington University School of Business professor Christopher Leinberger writes, “The metro area that does not offer walkable urbanism is probably destined to lose economic development opportunities; the creative class will gravitate to those metro areas that offer multiple choices in living arrangements.” Cities need a strong core to compete nationally, to build the regional economy and create a sense of identity for the region. Right now downtown Fresno is a drain on the city as a whole. Imagine if these buildings are full, property taxes go up, sales taxes increase, and downtown becomes a boost to our city’s economy.
The Downtown Fresno ice rink attracted 31,920 visitors downtown. People do come downtown given the right asset, endeavor, activity or business. If the area is vibrant and attractive, people will come downtown. We already have plenty to work with as a start. Each day, approximately 40,000 people come downtown to work. There are approximately 666 residential units in the downtown area, with more being planned and constructed. Additional retail, amenities, and restaurants will further establish the area as a destination. Businesses cater their products to their shoppers. Currently, the demographic on the Fulton Mall is predominately low-income. A thriving downtown will have a diverse audience with a wide array of businesses and products. A thriving downtown will cater to multiple populations.
It makes no sense that 1964 is the historical moment in Fresno’s past that we are honoring. Before 1964, Fulton Mall was a vibrant Main Street that was open to cars, people and bikes. Fulton has been a street longer than it has been a pedestrian mall. There is no reason for us to hold on to a model that has failed all over the country. Pedestrian malls have a less than 3% success rate. Kalamazoo, home of the first pedestrian mall, realized that it was a failure and took it out, letting go of the “historical” aspect in favor of building a vibrant, successful, living city. The smart business decision is to move forward with removing the Mall. To preserve the historic buildings along the Fulton Mall, there must be economic incentive to invest in them. There is little to no economic incentive to invest in them currently. These buildings are at risk of greater decay and demolition if they cannot be accessed and used profitably.
The total project cost is estimated at $19.9 million. The project will be completely funded without using any general fund resources. The breakdown of funding is $15.9 million from the TIGER grant, $2 million from state grants, $1.8 million in local grant dollars that can only be used in downtown, and $250,000 directly from the property owners within the project area. The $20 million dollar estimated project cost has been thoroughly vetted and includes a contingency, meaning the project should come in on budget.
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