The Mayor's Office is making a last-ditch plea for the Assemi family to reconsider its planned health-sciences university at Millerton Lake and instead put it in downtown Fresno.
City Manager Mark Scott minced no words at Thursday's City Council meeting where, on behalf of Mayor Ashley Swearengin, he told family members present in the chamber that downtown was the better site.
"We do think there are some great advantages for a medical facility closer to the hospitals," Scott said.
Scott said he was disappointed that the city had not been consulted before the Assemis announced in January their plans to build a handful of post-graduate schools across 100 to 150 acres of foothills near Friant, starting with a pharmacy school.
Scott's appeal to relocate the campus comes as a regional debate unfolds over where the area should steer its future growth.
The city has committed to redeveloping its blighted downtown while Fresno and Madera counties are pursuing new homes and businesses on the city outskirts. Several lawsuits have flown back and forth between the parties and just this week the groups aired their differences at a regional growth summit.
The Assemis said Thursday that they would talk with city officials, but they're all but certain to continue working with Fresno County on a campus 10 miles north of town.
They expect to file a formal application with the county for the Millerton Lake site within the next few weeks and hope to break ground by 2015.
"We as a family are seriously committed to downtown Fresno," said Farid Assemi, who has built several housing complexes in the city center. "But the plan has to make sense. I can't see for our long term bringing thousands of students to downtown."
Family members considered building in Fresno as well as neighboring Clovis. But they say they couldn't find a parcel big enough and without such obstacles as costly infrastructure and inadequate parking space.
Assemi said he likes the idea of building the university at Millerton Lake because his family is already tied to decades-old plans to develop the area.
County leaders have been looking for years to permit thousands of homes in Friant and the nearby foothills, despite protest from the city.
"We're not entirely comfortable with the Millerton New Town concept in the first place," Scott told the Assemis on Thursday.
Thursday's discussion came out of a scheduled update on the project by the family.
The City Council did not share Scott's concerns. No members spoke publicly against the proposed university.
"You've got my whole-hearted support," Council Member Sal Quintero told the family. "It's really a need here in the Valley."
The for-profit California Health Sciences University is expected to fill a demand for more medical professionals.
The Assemis hope to open the campus in 2018, though they're debuting with a pharmacy school in Clovis. They anticipate classes starting at the Clovis site in August of next year.
The pharmacy school will eventually be relocated to the foothill campus, they say, where other post-graduate schools, possibly in optometry or dentistry, will be built.
In other action at Thursday's meeting, the Fresno City Council:
-- Approved the contract of Doug Sloan, the new city attorney. Details were not available.
-- Presented a resolution of gratitude to Francine Kanne for her service as interim city attorney.
-- Approved the environmental findings for the proposed Martin Ray Reilly Park in southeast Fresno. The city has the money from a state grant to build the park but must figure out how to fund its maintenance. Council members and interim parks Director Bruce Rudd discussed at length the financial challenges of park maintenance.
-- George Hostetter
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