Friday, April 11, 2014

Clovis Old Town Trail Missing Link to be Built this Summer

Mark your calendars for June! There's exciting news for fans of the most important trail in the Fresno area. I'm talking about the Sugarpine/Old Town Trail which runs from River Park in Fresno, up to Shepherd, down through Old Town Clovis, and then ends south of Sierra Vista Mall.

The trail has had a missing link through Old Town, where the old railroad was turned into a parking lot. In that section, the trail mysteriously vanishes, and trail users must find there way to the next section through a local street.

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While the local road isn't particularity problematic for experienced trail users, there is absolutely no way-finding signage. Those not familiar with the trail may assume it just ends there. There are also no intersection treatments, and lighting is poor.

This post has an on the ground perspective.

This summer, the gap will finally be filled. I had previously suggested a cycle-track along the road, which would be a cheap way to add infrastructure.

Clovis will essentially be building this proposal, but with a sidewalk extension, which puts cyclists on a different level from the road. That's even better.

The more permanent engineering is also the reason this project has been moving so slowly. Extending the sidewalk messes with drainage, and that means more engineering is needed. It also means digging, which will require utility relocation.

Here's what the plan looks like (it is not final, but don't expect many changes). North is to the right.

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As you can see, the treatment is almost the same as my beautiful MS Paint sketch above. Trail users will cross at the existing raised crosswalk, and then the sidewalk will be extended to the east.

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An interesting design treatment is a row of trees that has been proposed in the middle of the trail. This will help beautify the street and also work as a division between trail users going north and side.

The city has marked that they will be installing a ramp at the 4th Street intersection. I am glad to see this, as many of the intersections the trail goes through lack such a basic feature. In fact, when I talked to the city, they said they weren't sure about it. There should be no question about adding a ramp. Under California law, crosswalks exist at every T-intersection. Not installing a ramp isn't just a huge hassle for cyclists, wheelchair users and those with strollers - it's an ADA lawsuit I am confident the city would lose.

I've raised a concern that the proposed ramp looks way too narrow for comfortable bike usage, and the city promised to take a look at it.

The project also lacks lighting at the crosswalks on both ends, which is a serious omission, and a major safety concern. I have also asked the city to consider adding lights over the crosswalks as the area is very dark at night. 

On the northern end of the project, the trail will be extended on the north side of 3rd street. While the plan doesn't show it, a painted crosswalk is planned.

It will be exciting to see this project finally move forward this year. Construction is expected to start in June and proceed through the summer.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Yes Craig, the Fulton Mall is plenty accessible to the disabled

It was already a month ago that the Fresno City Council voted to demolish the Fulton Mall, and something really bothered me about that hearing which I've been meaning to write about. During the public comment period, Craig Sharton, the owner of Peeve's Pub spoke in support of the removal. That was expected. What was unexpected was how he used his two minutes: by giving a ridiculous story that has no basis in reality. I've been meaning to write about his "point" but haven't had time.

His short story was about two women who wanted to visit his restaurant. One of the women was disabled and relied on a wheelchair. Craig claims the women were unable to find any nearby street parking, and the mall made it impossible for them to access his store because it lacked direct vehicular access that the wheelchair-bound woman needed. He recommended they simply drive on the pedestrian mall and unload the wheelchair at his front door, and then the driver could park further away and walk. They did this, but stated they wouldn't return due to the inconvenience.

He also noted the mall made receiving packages hard for the same reason. 

I was in awe at the elevated level of bullshit contained in under two minutes. 

For fifty years, access for vehicles to stores on the mall has not been a problem, because at the rear of every building is a vehicular alley. Packages and deliveries? No problem. Loading? No problem. It was designed that way for a reason.

The alley also provides access to ample parking - including dedicated handicap spots. Peeve's Pub, like every other building on the mall, has entrances on both the front and back so patrons can exit where it's most convenient to them.

There was zero need for anyone to drive on the mall. If immediate access to the door was required by the person in the wheelchair, then it was readily available on the alley side. I have frequented the location many times, and have used the rear door without issue to access the parking lot. Craig has owned the restaurant for many months, and surely is aware of the option.

In fact, Peeves has an EXTRAORDINARY amount of handicap parking within STEPS of the rear entrance.

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Four or so are in the alley, and at least an additional ten are in the public parking lot. The red arrow indicates the extremely short walk across the alley to the back entrance. Try parking that close to your destination in River Park.

Craig argued that by turning the mall into a street, his friend could have parked directly in front of the store.

Bullshit. The thing about downtown metered parking, in any successful downtown, is that it is scare. You're never guaranteed a spot by the front door. The only way to guarantee a space available to handicapped patrons is to designate it as an exclusive space - something unlikely to happen because theres a TON of those spaces there already.

And even if those spaces didn't exist, the friend could have driven down the alley, and unloaded the wheelchair there. On a main street, you're never guaranteed a curbside spot to load and unload. In the alley, you have all the time you need.

It's a shame that Craig felt the best way to support his vision was by relying on fairy tales. It's not surprising, because the economic analysis and EIR also exist in the realm of fantasy, but at least this one was especially egregious because of how easy it is to fact check.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mexico's Ecobici Bike Share Expanding Again, and Opening to Tourists

Another year, another major expansion for Mexico City's 4-year old Ecobici bike share system.

The latest expansion will see an investment of 150 million pesos - or 11 million USD - to expand into 14 new square kilometers (5.5sq.mi) using 171 new stations, and 2,600 new bikes. Of those new stations, 12 will be added in areas that currently have service, to meet high demand. 

To put that number in perspective, the system currently has 275 stations. With the expansion, the system will become the largest in the Americas, beating out New York's Citibike which has 330 stations. The system would still be smaller than the ones in Paris and London, as well as various enormous systems in China.

You can see the current station map here. A map of new stations has yet to be released. Mexico City is a huge place, and the stations are (rightfully) being compactly spaced out. That means we could be reading about sizable expansions for years to come.

The planners expect this year's expansion to attract an additional 60,000 new subscribers, which would add to the 120,000 subscribers today. Again as a comparison, Citibik had 90,000 as of last October, which is the last data I could find. Last September, Ecobici was nearing 100,000.

There's also good news for tourists.

Unlike the many US bike share systems, Ecobici has operated on a closed subscription model, as they use ClearChannel as a provider.  What that means is that the system was ONLY open to residents of Mexico City, who had to fill out an application for a membership. The system also had a user cap, based on the number of bikes.

Last year, the system become available to non-annual subscribers who were willing to trudge to a central office, and have their passport scanned to open a temporary membership.

That silly system is coming to an end. Like most world bikeshare systems, Ecobici will soon allow people - including tourists - to buy a short-term membership straight from the station kiosk with a credit card. Pricing has not been announced, but as the annual membership is around 30USD, I would expect a day pass to be significantly less than the $10 common in the US.

Worried about biking in Mexico? The city has been adding protected bike lanes to encourage cycling. Last year, the city announced that all future public transit projects would include a bicycle component,, including the newest BRT line.

History of the system:

2010 - launched with 70 stations
2011-  expanded to 85
2012/2013 - expanded to 275
2014 - will expand to 446

Expansion is expected to begin by June. Addition of credit card readers to current kiosks may begin earlier. Both projects are scheduled to be implemented through summer. 

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 Image Source

Source: (Spanish)
Source: El Financiero (Spanish)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What's next for the Fulton Mall?

As you probably read in the Fresno Bee last week, the city council has voted to celebrate the Fulton Mall's 50th anniversary by destroying it and building a road. The decision was surprising but not shocking: the council has yet to see a silver bullet revitalization project they didn't love.

This blog is obviously not in favor of the decision. Does the vote mean the fate has been sealed? Is it game over? Are the bulldozers on their way?


The vote last week was to certify the EIR to move forward in the process. Absolutely no construction will happen on the Fulton Mall in 2014. So those looking to celebrate the mall's 50th anniversary, you can do so in peace, under mature trees, and classic art.

Yes, you might see even more fountains fall in disrepair, as the tiny maintenance budget has probably been completely zeroed out, but they will still exist. Sadly, the mall will be spending its birthday in the worst ever state of disrepair.

The council has to vote again in January of 2015 to approve the final design, and the bid for construction. I believe at this point they have a 30% design. The city has to move to 90%, and submit the project for construction bid. If approved, construction would begin about 90 days later- so no sooner than a year from now.

It's important to note than only then will the actual cost of the project be known. Once that is known, the council must vote to hand over the money.

Those of us who think the city has been playing loose with the cost expectations may see some good - or some terrible - news. If the design and bids come well above what has been promised, the council will not be happy. They simply will not vote for a project that is not 100% funded by outside sources (fed, state, county).

Does a high price mean the project dies? Possibly. However, at the council meeting last week, the council, and the city, many times talked about value engineering the project if the cost escalates.

That's terrible news. Yo can't lower the cost of the design work. You can't cheapen the asphalt, or ask the contractor to cut their wages.

So what can be cut? The art. The restoration. The fountains. You know, all the stuff that was sold to us as a benefit will be the first to get the ax. And if they do get cut, then we will truly be left with the most average of streets. That would be a disaster.

That does present another lobbying opportunity though. The council didn't seem bothered that the city had lied throughout the entire process, when they promised putting up three options for vote - and then only submitting one. However, they may be more concerned if every last vestige of the mall is removed from the project due to cost cutting.

It's not just the cost that may derail the project. The EIR was especially shoddy, as it claimed that the Fulton Mall was not a park, for example. Bad EIR means a lawsuit, or two.

Ask yourself (or a judge!) what an open public space used by pedestrians and cyclists, filled with benches, public restrooms, playgrounds, fountains, a sound system, a stage, art, over a hundred trees, gazebos, etc is. I think most people would call it a park.

It looks like a park, acts like a park, is used like a park....and was even maintained by the city parks department.

It is a de facto park, and mitigation should have been considered during the EIR, but wasn't.Instead the consultant stated that because the city didn't call it a park, it's not a park. When asked how a park is defined, they could not answer.

I think a lawsuit pushing that point has strong standing.

They also claim that the project will have zero traffic impacts, and no adverse affects on minorities.A road project that will create zero car trips? Huh?

One group is hosting a fundraiser to sue the city.  I'm sure they're not alone.

A lawsuit could easily delay the project, and if the city were to lose the case, requiring a new EIR, the council would probably vote to stop the money pit.

At the very worst, remember that you have all of 2014 to enjoy the mall. That means another Cinco de Mayo, another Fiestas Patrias, another Ice Skating Rink, and maybe another Catacomb party.

Continue to enjoy the mall, and support the businesses - but make sure to let them know that once construction starts, your business is gone.

Incidentally, lost in the mall news was the fact that a new coffee shop has opened.

I took a picture of their sign last December, and it opened  last week: The Little Bean Cafe.

Not open past 6:30pm, but it's nice to see something new.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Important Fulton Mall Dates Coming Up

Time is running out to help preserve the Fulton Mall.

Monday is the deadline to send comments to Caltrans for their report on the Fulton Mall project. 

You can send Caltrans comments until Feb 24 to Kirsten Helton, Department of Transportation, 855 M Street, Suite 200, Fresno, CA 93721.

More important is February 27, when the council votes.

Here is the item from the meeting agenda (large PDF) 
While speaking in person is important, make sure to also contact to council members directly by email.When a public comment at a meeting drags on for hours, as it will, people stop listening. Sending an email means more attention.

So be brief, and use good point!

Remember to target your comments to the council members. For example, it's probable that Brand and Brandau don't care at all about park space, art, or history. So there's no reason to send them a letter addressing those subjects. Instead, focus on the financial risk of the project to the city. 

Brand has attempted to portray himself as "Mr. Money Guy" while Brandau governs as "Mr. Tea Party." That means pointing out that the fed grant won't cover all the costs, especially the overruns. This is even more true in an older area, where there are likely old pipes, wires, and gas lines under the mall that aren't on any map. Whenever an old street gets dug up, the crews ALWAYS encounter these problems, resulting in lengthy delays. That means the city is on the hook for cash. 

Or point out how flimsy the EIR and economic report are. A bad EIR means the city can and will be dragged through the court system. Aside from legal fees, lengthy delays mean forfeiting the fed grant. 

For example,
the EIR claims that there will be no traffic increase, and thus, no mitigation required.

The circular logic is astounding:

Project will create high economic impact -> more shoppers, more workers, more people 

More people = more cars right?

Nope, according to the EIR, because any economic impact is speculative, then there will be no additional traffic.

So they're saying approve the project for its economic impact, which is guaranteed.....but no mitigation is needed because economic impact is not guaranteed.

So ask your council member who is right. The EIR that says there will be no economic boost, or the project backers that say there will be? 

The EIR response to comments also stated that increase in vehicle/pedestrian injuries is speculative, and doesn't have to be addressed - but the cost-benefit analysis notes a significant increase in collisions. Makes sense right? When you turn a ped-only street into a 30mph road, you create more conflict.

Oh, and theres the bit about the EIR claiming the mall doesn't act as a park, so no open space mitigation is needed. 

Playgrounds, benches, gazebos, trees, bikes, peds, fountains, art.....nope not a park? 

You can also talk to them about how there's no real proof the project will revitalize anything at all. $20 million is quite the gamble, and if it doesn't work, Fresno has nothing to show for it. While the mall didn't revitalize downtown when built, at least an attractive space was created, which has been well used for events and such.

You can also talk about a potential civil rights lawsuit. Right now, most of the business on the mall is minority-operated and visited. If the project puts them all out of business, that's a serious issue. 

Another angle is the claim that changing the mall into a road will cause the office space to be suddenly popular. But that assumes the only barrier to use is the road.

LA has many wonderful historical buildings on very busy streets....that are vacant from floor 2 up. Why? Most old buildings have obsolete layouts for modern needs. Adding a few street parking spaces doesn't change the design of the interior. 

The report states that:

"As the downtown area has the second lowest office vacancy rate in the Fresno region, it seems that the project study area’s high vacancy rate is not attributable to its location and is due to other conditions"

I agree. Such as the fact that the oldest buildings are there, and will require millions in internal improvements to be attractive. 

 Or just bitch about how you don't want your tax money being spent for anything. 

The point is, make sure your voice is heard. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Broadway Streetscape Project Photo Update

I've a lot of large posts I want to put together....however these photos I took a couple of weeks ago are getting stale, so I need to finish posting them!

Here's quick look at the Broadway streetscape project. I took some photos a few weeks earlier, and construction has moved slowly. Mind you, the entire project has moved slowly. Here's the times I've written about it, excluding the above link:

September 2011: Project announced
September 2011: Full details   - Construction scheduled for 2012 (lols)
July 2013: Comparison with LA Broadway streetscape project

And here is what the construction looked like in January of this year:

Windshield perspective, driving south from Divisadero
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Not much going on at this GV Urban project, where we parked to take pictures
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Did a walk around the block. Nothing much of note, except this fun sign
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Returning to Broadway
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Supposedly, this project is to help pedestrians, but there were ZERO ped accommodations for construction. "Sidewalk closed" ..... on all four corners at some intersections.

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Looking north

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Looking south. I was told streets generate commerce and business? And yet one can stand here all day...

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As I said, no temporary accommodation for peds. If you're in a wheelchair, you're screwed....and so if Fresno if they get sued.

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 We take a brief detour....this alley needs streetscape improvements

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High speed rail construction is still not underway

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And a frequent topic of conversation on this blog...

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Looking back at Broadway

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Walking north

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I do not believe that this is open weeknights.

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I'm very disappointed with the ramp choice. Look how narrow the walkways are, just the bare minimum. Forget about walking next to someone.

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And as I've mentioned before, going with pull-in parking was a huge mistake

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It doesn't appear that any accommodations for the bus stops are being included? 

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And back to the GV Urban lot

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Hope you all enjoyed the pictures. This project should wrap up soon, and provide plenty of free parking for those using the Rainbow Ballroom.

Bonus: I was asked about the First 5 Fresno construction by the library. Taken the same day.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Construction on Droge building progressing slowly

In 2012, the city, via the housing authority, moved forward on the process to tear down the old Droge building and erect a modern four story apartment building. A neighboring building (one which a couple of my family members worked in for many years) was also demolished. This is an interesting building as it's going up with less parking spaces than is "normal." And yes, people complained that would cause issues, even though a large garage sits across the street, which is always 99% empty at night.

As an aside: If you're going to an event at Saroyan or Selland, they charge $8 (or $6?) for parking at the convention center garage. The spiral garage pictured is free after 6pm and all weekends, and is only two blocks away. They do however charge for stadium events (and I'd assume you could park at the convention center garage for free). This is how I know the garage is 99% empty at night.

Last summer, I stopped by the site shortly after the demolition.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the site again to see the progress.

The good news: They are actually building something, so the Droge wasn't torn down for a failed attempt. The cynic in my wondered if that would be the case.
The bad news: Construction is progressing slowly.

Have a look:

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This will soon be hidden

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I'm not an architect, but this is an odd space.

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Hopefully there's more building to look at in a couple of months. Depending on how cheaply this is built, it might open before the end of the year.

Bonus: This looks new, and very attractive.
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is Walmart changing the way they plan their new stores?

There was a surprising announcement in the Bee today: A new Walmart store in Fresno.

Walmart will open a supercenter in the former Mervyn's that has sat empty for five years at Blackstone and Ashlan avenues in central Fresno.

The retail giant plans to open the store -- which will include clothing, electronics, a full grocery department, but no auto center -- this summer. At 107,000 square feet, the store is slightly smaller than a typical Walmart Supercenter, but larger than the average Walmart store.

Read more here:

Read more here:
It wasn't so much a surprise that we're getting yet another Wamart (Fresno sure does love them), but the location was very unexpected; it's the last place I would have thought a Walmart would open, because it goes counter to what the company is so well known for.

Does this represent a shift in the way the company does business? 

I'm no fan of Walmart, and one of the major reasons is their real-estate policy. The company is known for doing the following things when expanding:

  • Build a brand new store from scratch
  • Build on the cheapest land - in a rural area a few miles out of town or a developing suburb
  • Always have the biggest possible parking lot in front
  • If applicable, abandon a nearby, smaller store. 

These policies lead to more sprawl, more driving, and giant empty abandoned stores that no one will ever use when Walmart changes location.

Most Valley stores follow the format.

The new Kerman store, for example, hits every point in the list but the last one. It's so new it's not on the Google imagery yet

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The newest Visalia supercenter is a similar deal, at the very edge of town, a couple blocks from farmland.

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No need to go on; everyone knows the Walmart model.

However in the case of their new store announcement, they're doing something different. In fact, they're not hitting a single bullet point.

  • Build a brand new store from scratch

Nope. They're moving into an abandoned Mervyn's, a store I assumed would sit empty for the next decade.

I took this picture last month, noting work being done in the abandoned store
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Moving into an existing store, especially one that was not designed as a supercenter, is very out of character for the chain. Yes, last year they announced that their West Shaw store would be moving across the street to an abandoned Super Kmart, but that move was to a larger box originally built to mimic the Walmart experience.

Mervyn's? Not so much your standard Walmart Supercenter.

  • Build on the cheapest land - in a rural area a few miles out of town or a developing suburb
Quite the opposite. The new store is going onto Blackstone, what has been the retail backbone of Fresno for decades. Sure, it's not exactly the River Park neighborhood (with River Park rents), but every lot was built on many years ago. Manchester Mall is seen at the bottom.

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  • Always have the biggest possible parking lot in front

Part of the deal with reusing an existing box in a part of town developed a few decades ago is that the parking lot doesn't quite meet modern Walmart standards. Yes, there's parking out front: but not much. Most is on the side.

There are about 80 spots in front, the bulk are on the side, and oddly enough, some in a far off corner no one would ever go to.

In this image, Blackstone is at the bottom, so you're looking at the front. The majority of parking is on the top left, with the most random parking on the top right. Aside from RV's, who would ever go back there?

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That means most of the parking will be on the side of the store. It will be interesting to see how Walmart lays out their entrances. They almost always have just two entrances up front, while Mervyn's was built with 5. Which ones will they keep?

I'd even assume these ten spots are being removed, or else traffic would back up onto Blackstone.

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The design isn't unprecedented in Fresno: The Target on Shields and First is also a clear retrofit of an older store. The parking lot feels like the 1950's, and it's certainly unlike any other Target in the region.

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But again, Walmart isn't one to deal with odd layouts: they just build new.

One advantage to the shopper? The front is actually close to the sidewalk!

Here are the distances from the front door to the closest street sidewalk at the existing stores, in feet:

North Fresno (Herndon): 540 (Herndon), 510 (Ingram)
New Clovis Herndon: 575
Kings Canyon: 650
West Shaw current: 650 feet (Shaw) 740 (Brawley)
West Shaw Future (old Kmart) : 740 (Shaw) 350 (Brawley)
Clovis Shaw: 800

The new location:

Only 155 feet from Blackstone!

And finally:

  • If applicable, abandon a nearby, smaller store.
The closest store, the Clovis Shaw location will presumably stay open, as it was promised to the city as part of the approval process for the new Herndon location.

Here's the location map.
1-5 are existing, star is this one, a and b are "Walmart neighborhood markets," which only sell grocery items.

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I wonder if this is the last Walmart we'll be seeing any time soon? Only the abandoned Kmart by Roeding Park seems appropriate for a final location, in terms of distance from other stores.

Now, if you're thinking "this isn't completely unprecedented," you're right. Walmart has been moving into urban areas and trying different concepts. They're opening five stores in DC, with hidden parking, and even an entrance by the sidewalk, or a store on the second floor. However, as far as I know, all those are custom built locations, not retrofits.

And Fresno isn't exactly DC. There's obviously no shortage of land, more people drive, and there's less political problems to deal with. Indeed, the local politicians love Walmart.

"I think this is exactly what this part of the city needs," said Fresno Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes the location.

Read more here:
Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the city welcomes an investment on its major north/south street.
"Projects like these, coupled with the city's vision for improving Blackstone Avenue with public infrastructure, will help give new life to this critical commercial corridor," she said in a news release.

Read more here:

An article from 2011 suggests that Walmart has moved into existing locations before: but not by choice.

Confirmation came this week that Walmart would take over the former Gottschalks site at Bayshore Mall. The retailer has a contentious history in Humboldt County, dating back to a 1999 ballot measure, and news of its upcoming opening has renewed the debate -- as evidenced by the strident feedback on news articles and other online forums.
In 1999, Eureka voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure J, which would have rezoned the Balloon Track property to allow Walmart to build on the waterfront site. Rumors about a new move by Walmart began surfacing in July when building plans were submitted for a “mystery store” at the Bayshore Mall. 

The town stopped Walmart from building new, but the town had no say in Walmart occupying an existing location.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened on Shaw and Fowler also went into an existing location (abandoned Albertson's), but that's 100% groceries, and is a very different retail concept than a supercenter.

Can anyone think of any other Walmart that breaks all their "rules", like this one is doing?

As an aside, anyone who shops at the Petco next door should be thrilled. As this image shows, the place is always a ghost town, and I'm surprised is still in business, especially with two new locations in the north part of town. The Walmart will surely help them attract customers, and stick around.

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