Posted by DFP Staff
Last Friday we threw a huge End of Summer party with food trucks and live music by Motel Drive. We invited everyone we knew and had a big announcement to make.
See, there’s this little grant that we’ve had our fingers crossed and hopes high that the City of Fresno might be considered for. And by little grant, we of course mean the $16 million TIGER grant which will fund reconstruction of the Fulton Mall- specifically for traffic bearing options 1 and 2.
This grant is a huge deal- so huge that the Secretary of Transportation of the United States, Anthony Foxx came to Fresno to deliver the good news in person.
So what does this good news mean? Here are a (couple) handful(s) of TIGER and Fulton Corridor related facts to shine some light on what this means for our sweet downtown.
- The City of Fresno received a $16 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant to restore Fulton Main Street. This money can only be used for Options 1 and 2 (because they have a transportation component in them). This is a project-specific grant and cannot be used for any other purpose. This is a case of use it or lose it.
- With this project, we aren’t going into debt or creating taxes. We are using grant money.
- The engineers have estimated that restoring the street will cost $20 million, with the TIGER grant covering 80% of the total cost. The remainder will be made up of $2 million from the State and $2 million from local grant dollars (including a $250,000 contribution from the downtown property owners). There will be no extra taxes for this project and money will not be coming from the General Fund. Should the cost go over, the project will be scaled back rather than finding extra funding. This project is not taking money from any other part of the city as it is a federal grant awarded specifically for this project.
- TIGER grants are extremely competitive. 95% of those that apply are denied. Of the 5% that are awarded, these recipients have typically been rejected 2 or 3 times before. Fresno was denied the award last year, giving the City this past year to improve upon the grant application.
- In a press release, DOT officials wrote that the project will: “…contribute to the reconstruction of the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno as a complete street, meaning that streets are designed to be used for driving, bicycling, walking or public transportation. The reconstruction would occur over 11 city blocks and would reintroduce vehicle traffic lanes while maintaining bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.”
- Construction could start in 2015 with an early 2016 ribbon-cutting. The TIGER grant is a 2.5 year grant, meaning that once it is formally accepted and approved, the project will be moving and complete within 2.5 years.
- The city needs an active heart of the city in downtown, an identity. A strong city has a strong downtown. A vibrant downtown helps recruit CEOs, entrepreneurs, residents, investors, companies and the future workforce, lending a positive effect on Fresno’s overall economy.
- Investment plans are underway simply because of anticipation of mall coming out; 15 projects are planned or underway in response to promise of mall opening. The private sector is strongly responding to this project.
- The time to change Fulton Mall and Downtown is now. We are in a very good position to get this project done. 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 have created a property based business improvement district, where they have voted to self-assess themselves to create a budget for downtown physical improvements and marketing. The Downtown Fresno Partnership is an organization dedicated to improving downtown’s built environment, businesses, marketing, and events. The Partnership and the property owners are calling to turn Fulton back into the Main Street that it was prior to 1964. The timing is also 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.
- Opening up the Fulton Mall will allow for accessibility, economic competitiveness, a chance to save historic buildings, and the opportunity to create a vibrant urban center.
- This project is a marriage of arts and commerce. (Ray Appleton Radio Show)
- Mayors across the entire San Joqauin Valley support this project because they know it will be a major regional attraction and economic generator and that by focusing on infill and reinvesting in downtown, it will help combat future sprawl out onto agricultural land.
- The downtown property owners overwhelmingly favor opening the Fulton Mall to vehicular traffic thereby restoring the vibrant, historical Fulton Main Street. Downtown needs a main street and Fulton has the identity, density, building stock, and potential to once again be the center of economic activity for downtown and the City of Fresno.
- Restoring the Fulton Main Street is good for economic competitiveness. The Fulton Mall is operating at just 6% of its economic potential. One of the nation’s leading experts on downtown retail—who published the textbook Principles of Urban Retail in 2012—estimates that opening the Mall will bring a 146% increase in economic vitality and activity on Fulton within the first five years of opening.
- From the Fresno Bee: “More important is what the city and Fresno County would reap in additional taxes from escalating property values of the historic high-rises on Fulton. Tall buildings with fully leased spaces contribute mightily to government budgets and help raise the quality of life for residents by funding public safety, as well as amenities such as parks and trails.”
- Opening up Fulton Mall provides an opportunity to save historic buildings: Developers will not invest along the Mall. It does not make financial sense for them to do so. The vacancy rate in the Mall’s historic buildings is 70%. Investors in potential adaptive-reuse housing projects in the Mall’s historic buildings have been clear about the importance of traffic on the Mall for their projects. These buildings are at risk of greater decay and demolition if they cannot be accessed and used profitably.
- It is time we have an accessible downtown: A pedestrian mall cuts off the viability of what could be a successful street because it is essentially a suburban model plopped on top of a city grid. It does the exact opposite—it cuts off accessibility, connections and walkability. Nationally, as reported in January by CBS News, even suburban shopping centers are trending toward adaptation as more urban-seeming, Main Street-style areas.
- Pedestrian Malls in urban areas are models of failure. Of the estimated 200 malls installed in the 1960s and 1970s, over 170 have been removed. This is a 3% rate of success. Would you invest in something that has a 3% chance of success? About 8 pure pedestrian malls remain. Those remaining malls have universities, hospitals, or other large foot-traffic generators adjacent to them. The few that work well are located near colleges or the ocean. 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.
- Based on research on the 170 cities that took out their pedestrian malls, there is almost immediate investment that occurs on that street and the surrounding areas. This is an exciting time for downtown! A strong downtown will help the entire region’s economy and an accessible main street will draw investment (and restoration of our beautiful, historical downtown building stock). We are the only major city between Los Angeles and San Francisco and we need to showcase ourselves that way.
- With the introduction of a main street, retail sales along the corridor would eventually jump 73% to $55 million annually. (Fresno Bee)
- The I Believe in Downtown Fresno campaign has already had over 350 people who have signed the pledge calling to restore the Fulton Main Street. (http://www.fresnocse.org/believers.php)
- This project is not a silver bullet, but it is a crucial first step, a catalyst to further development and investment. Restoring Fulton Main Street will allow for reactivating historic buildings, spurring public investment, and creating a great return of private investment; public project. The Fulton Mall has been decaying for over 50 years, so it will take collaborations, hard work, and investment to help turn it around.
- The downtown property owners overwhelmingly support Option 1, restoring a complete, Main Street. They even contributed $250,000 to help make this happen.
- Planning Notes:
- Fulton Corridor Specific Plan, 2035 General Plan, Downtown Neighborhoods Plan
- A strong main street contributes to a strong downtown
- A strong downtown is necessary for a thriving region
- Strong urban core contributes to region’s identity, helps recruit and retain talent, presents a walkable urban environment (meeting demand and providing housing choice in the region), spurs private investment
- Infill combats sprawl and preserves valuable agricultural land (and saves money on not expanding city services further out)
- Some Supporters
- The Downtown Fresno Partnership
- The Downtown Fresno property owners
- Downtown Fresno investors
- Representative Jim Costa, Fresno
- Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Fresno
- U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx
- Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood
- The Strong Cities Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative
- All the mayors in the San Joaquin Valley
- The City of Fresno
- The Lowell Neighborhood Association
- Downtown Businesses including Passions, De Alba Travel, Peeve’s Public House, Joe’s Steakhouse
- The agriculture community
- State Transportation officials
Whew! We know, it’s a lot to take in at once. These are the reasons we’re so super excited that Fresno is a recipient of this grant, and we congratulate the City of Fresno heartily on persistently pursuing ways to make revitalization happen! For FAQ on the Fulton Corridor project and pedestrian mall data, check out our website.
Let your council member know that you’re excited about the TIGER grant and urge them to support bringing a main street back to the Fulton Corridor and to Fresno.
Now we’re all pumped up- time for some Eye of the Tiger!