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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An overhead look at downtown Fresno before high speed rail changes everything

About a month ago, I went out and took hundreds of pictures around downtown Fresno. The intention was to post them quickly, but that obviously didn't happen. My post about the changes at Fresno State took a few days to put together, and then I was away from the internet for a week due to a planned surgery.

This set of pictures was originally intended to show the current state of High Speed Rail (HSR) construction in Fresno. However, a lot has happened in a month, so they're no longer current in regards to construction activity on the project itself. Instead, they will serve as a benchmark of what downtown Fresno looked like right before serious construction started in earnest, and before private investors started taking note of the prime empty lots.

I believe that HSR is going to absolutely transform downtown Fresno. Office towers that have sat empty for years will become hot amenities. Empty lots that have lain fallow since a fire 50 years ago will be quickly scooped up. Sidewalks that are empty past 5pm will be bustling when trains start unloading passengers.

Here are where things stand now.

We begin our journey from above. I'll follow up shortly with photos showing the view from the ground.

Pictures were taken from the Pacific Southwest Tower, access thanks to Craig Scharton's tour. First photo was taken in the direction of the red arrow, with the following pictures moving in a clockwise order, as shown by the orange arrow.



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This will be ground zero of high speed rail. The building with the yellow triangle features is the Southern Pacific Depot. The old train station, built in 1889, it is the oldest commercial building in the city. Today, it serves as office space. Amtrak runs on a different rail line and does not stop there. However, the new High Speed Rail station will be built directly behind and above it. The structure will be preserved of course.

The less attractive building in front of it was the Greyhound station. Greyhound recently left the station and moved to the current Amtrak Station. I'll do a separate photo post about it. That building will remain standing for a couple of years for HSR related work, and then be demolished for the new station. 



Pulling back a wee bit...



Moving to the right, clockwise, we see an existing roadway underpass that's set to be expanded to accommodate HSR. That dark blue building on the corner, in front of the Bank of America, was a very large adult store (Wildcat Adult Superstore) and has since been demolished. It had to come down due to a change in alignment of the roadway to accommodate the new underpass. Across the street, the Cosmopolitan Tavern will be demolished once their new location opens by the Convention Center. They made a deal where they bought a portion of a city owned surface parking lot to erect a new structure.I would guess the big white building closest to the tracks will also go away.



Moving the camera to the right, we see the enormous potential. Giant empty surface parking lots will make way for new offices and residential towers that want to be near the station. That pinkish building on the right is Hotel Fresno, an asset that has seen a series of failed renovation efforts. Once the station feels real to investors, watch that old hotel bloom.



Zooming in a bit (Hotel Fresno isn't in great shape), we see the two roadway bridges over the existing rail properties. One of them is now completely gone, and I'll have photos of that in the ground update post.



Moving to the right again, we see the Fulton Mall. If you're familiar with Fresno, you know that this pedestrian mall is about to be ripped up and turned into a street in the name of urban revitalization. I am fully confident that those efforts will fail in returning the corridor to a shopping oasis. However, once the station opens, the corridor will be bustling. A shame that green canopy will be almost entirely obliterated.



Moving right again...



 Continuing right, we can see how far Fresno has sprawled to the horizon.



And now we're facing the opposite direction of the rail station. The centerpiece here is the courthouse, with its park. High Speed Rail won't bring much change to this government dominated landscape, except in adding happy pedestrians. Community Regional Medical Center are the two large buildings further back. They currently have a UCSF branch, and I can see that expanding with improved connections to SF.


Moving on, we see a more modern side of downtown Fresno, sort of. That tall building in the back is the Federal Courthouse, supposedly the tallest building in the city, I guess depending on what you measure. Built in 2005 it's the city's only modern tower. It's also very attractive. The Amtrak station sits right behind it. That section of town, with the modern City Hall and the new First 5 building has a cluster of modern development. All government, but attractive. HSR won't really make a dent over there.

I'll have a photo update of the completed First 5 building coming up, along with a look at how Greyhound fits into the Amtrak station. Also near Amtrak is a new project which renovated and expanded an old warehouse into modern offices. 



As we keep turning, we see another lot just prime for some great development.



Now we're back at the Fulton Mall, and Chukchansi Park, a failed effort to spark redevelopment downtown. Sure, it's a nice stadium (and hosted the New York Cosmos in a friendly exhibition game tonight), but since it opened in 2002 it hasn't generated much interest in the area. Supposedly that is going to change soon, but I think the HSR winds are the real reason. Let's check back in a year to see if that proposal goes anywhere.





Behind the baseball stadium, we see the industrial side of town. There have been many plans for this area, including trying to bring in Bass Pro Shops. That obviously never happened. Lots of potential though. The South Stadium dream:


The reality:



And now we're back to where we started. See that white mound thing in that dirt lot across the railroad tracks? The Central Fish Company is located right behind it, an interesting business that's a mixture of a seafood counter, Asian supermarket, and lunch spot. I suggest checking it out if you haven't. It's part of Chinatown, an area that has a cute street grid which reminds me a lot of Old Town Clovis - but with a lot more empty buildings. That whole part of Fresno has been neglected for decades, as it sits on the "wrong" side of the tracks.



That is all for our look from above. I hope to upload pictures from the ground in the near future as well, which show the city before HSR.

They will focus on:
  • Old train station and Greyhound (future HSR station)
  • View from Chinatown
  • View from above the railroad track

5 comments:

  1. You mentioned in your post that Chinatown is "on the 'wrong' side of the tracks."

    I hope, with the development of the new high-speed train station, that "reality" changes. It would be a crying shame if new attendant downtown development as a result of the high-speed train station going in is limited to the east side of the tracks only. What a missed opportunity that would be.

    I notice that the entrance to the new train station will be on the edifice's east side.

    Oh, and there is one other item: With the opening of the station the presumption is streets in close proximity to the facility itself will be negatively impacted; presumably more so than what it is already with all the vehicle traffic descending upon downtown in the area dropping off and picking up high-speed rail patrons; people intending to travel by high-speed train looking for places to park vehicles overnight or during the day while away; you get the idea.

    I also wonder what the image (what their first impression will be, in other words) of the city will be to out-of-towners traveling from far-off places upon alighting from the fast trains and upon exiting the station to find that their only transportation options are cabs, city transit buses, perhaps rental cars, and foot (walking) when other station locations outside the Valley will undoubtedly have far superior connectivity with lightrail, streetcar and subway systems at their disposal.

    And, I couldn't agree more that regarding the reintroduction of Fulton Street where the Mall currently resides "efforts will fail in returning in returning the corridor to a shopping oasis," that is, absent a healthy pedestrian and residential element to that locale. Years from now, the city will be kicking itself for putting the street back in.

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    1. The city has gone back and forth with the transportation thing. On one had, they looked at building something like 6,000 garage spaces for the train station. On the other hand, they looked at using all those lots for actual buildings. Obviously, I support the buildings rather than parking.

      One of the downsides of HSR is that it will cut off various streets that currently cross the rail track. That has the potential to put the west side in even worse shape if the city does not work to get development going on both sides of the station.

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  2. Very nice post James, great pics as well. Lots of potential for DTF!!!!!!!!

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  3. Thank you James for documenting this. It's very interesting right now and I think many years down the road, this will be a fascinating process. My employer, J - I.T. Outsource will be moving into the Pacific Southwest Building in July. If you want, I could be a contributing documentarian. Just let me know!

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    1. That is going to be a fun move! Do you know what floor youll be on?

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