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?

No.

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.

3 comments:

  1. Down here in the IE, we recently broke ground on an expansion of the regional intercity train, the MetroLink, on a project that's been in planning for at least two decades. It should be open by now, but it was held up by a NIMBY CEQA challenge that ultimately resulted in a multimillion dollar payment to the plaintiffs for "mitigation". If an obviously good project like that can get held up for years by stupidity, that Fulton Mall EIR is a sitting duck. I glanced over it and it has so many holes that I'm it wouldn't even hold molasses.

    The fact that Fresno is on par with more progressive European cities who experimented, and ultimately often turned to, similar treatments about the same time, is something that the City should be embracing with arms wide open. I'd wager that the only change that is needed is to rezone the whole area to mixed-use to take full advantage of the amenity it offers. People WILL flock to it, and developers will take notice. I can guarantee a far greater ROI than the City will ever realize by paving it over and I'm sure you know the same. A (true) BRT loop going around the mall and connecting on Blackstone and to the CSUF along with a rezone of the entire corridor would revitalize the City far more than anything else on their agenda at the moment. Good luck.

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    1. I think a competent lawyer can demolish the EIR for sure. The question is, can the group suing afford a lawyer with the right experience?

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    2. Hopefully, or maybe an exceptionally generous firm outright donates their time. Either one would be great.

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