Fresno's downtown revitalization "czar" is leaving City Hall to do some energizing in the area on his own dime.
Craig Scharton is resigning as the city's business development director effective Aug. 31, city officials announced Thursday.
City Manager Bruce Rudd accepted the resignation, praising Scharton in a written statement for his "passionate and unwavering commitment" to downtown.
Scharton will open Peeve's Public House & Local Market in the former Fresno Brewing Company on the Fulton Mall.
Scharton said Peeve's will celebrate local, fresh, seasonal produce and food products. A portion of the business will market local produce and locally made food products.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin in a written statement said Scharton "will continue to be an invaluable champion of Fresno's revitalization and economic development."
Scharton in a written statement thanked Swearengin.
"It has been an honor to work for my hometown in the areas that also hold my passion: revitalizing our downtown, bringing our older neighborhoods back to health, and building an economy based on our strengths, our local people and our local businesses," Scharton said.
Scharton wrote about his resignation on Facebook.
"I had planned on staying a little longer, but an opportunity has emerged that is going to take more of my time than I had originally imagined," he wrote.
Swearengin said Scharton played a key role in many recent downtown achievements. They include:
• Developing the Fulton Corridor Specific Plan and the Downtown Neighborhoods Plan.
• Attracting investors and/or new owners for the JC Penney Building, The Pacific Southwest Building (formerly known as the Security Bank Building) and the Helm Building, among others.
• Creating the Fresno Food Expo.
None of this, though, fully captures the color of Scharton's long and sometimes stormy immersion in Fresno's civic affairs.
The Bullard High School graduate was only 25 in May 1987 when he defeated incumbent Ted C. Wills for the City Council's District 1 seat.
Downtown revitalization in general, and Fulton Mall's revival in particular, were hot-button issues even then. Fresno at the time was hunting for a new city hall. Scharton wanted the mall's Holiday Inn turned into the city's new seat of government. Few listened. A year later he opposed ripping up the mall so cars could return. He now takes the opposite view toward vehicular traffic on what used to be Fulton Street between Tuolumne and Inyo streets.
Scharton lost his reelection bid to Brian Setencich in 1991, but stayed active in downtown events for much of the next 18 years. He served as senior economic development director for Fresno's One by One Leadership for awhile, and pushed hard for the revitalization of the L Street area in the Cultural Arts District.
Swearengin tabbed Scharton to head the administration's new Downtown and Community Revitalization Department when she took office in January 2009. That was too much of a mouthful for most -- hence his nickname of downtown revitalization czar.
The title stuck even as Scharton's duties and downtown rejuvenation efforts evolved in the wake of recession-forced budget cuts. It was no secret at City Hall that Scharton's star had begun to fade even as Swearengin rolled to an easy re-election victory in 2012. Voter rejection in June of the Measure G trash-outsourcing initiative, and the political and financial turmoil it caused within the administration, seems to have sealed Scharton's fate. His salary ($124,152 annually), if not his style, had become a burden to a mayor trying to regain her political verve.
Scharton on late Thursday afternoon was in his new business at the north end of Fulton Mall, wearing the grubby clothes of an entrepreneur deep into a remodeling funded by his own wallet. The place's old carpet is gone. New equipment is being hauled in. The walls are ready for a new coat of paint.
The Sept. 5 opening -- that's ArtHop night -- is a "soft" one, Scharton said. He'll close that night, crank out another week or two of remodeling, then open for good when things look right.
Peeve's is about three things, Scharton said. The first is local food. The second is fun -- "our event calendar will be packed with things to do," he says. The third is Fresno's urban heart.
"I will continue to sell downtown," Scharton said.