Work on Fresno State's Campus Pointe's retail center to begin

The Fresno BeeAugust 31, 2013 

Byron Jones keeps a busy schedule: He's an assistant coach for the men's basketball team at Fresno State and often eats on the fly between work and play.

That's why he chose to live in the Campus Pointe Palmilla apartments when he moved to town two years ago — just as construction crews started on a major retail center outside his doorstep. The promise of a convenient place to eat and shop is why he decided against moving to a new apartment.

"It's going to be a great situation, but it's just a matter of time," he said. "We're all being very patient, and hopefully (it comes) sooner than later."

The anticipation could soon be over: the long-awaited Campus Pointe project will begin above-ground construction on shops and restaurants this month, setting in motion the second major stage of the plan that promises to bring new businesses near the California State University, Fresno campus in northeast Fresno.

Retail buildings will start rising from the massive dirt field near the Save Mart Center in late September, said project developer Ed Kashian, chief financial officer of Lance-Kashian & Company. He expects construction to be completed by this time next year.

The $115 million mixed-use development includes 150,000 square feet of retailers, two apartment complexes — both completed in 2009 — a hotel and senior apartments, which are in the planning stages.

Kashian has signed leases with about 20 retailers but said last week he needs 30 more to complete the 45-acre project.

Just a few businesses have announced plans to lease space. Bella Nails, KwirkWorld, Dai Bai Dang, Kebab Grill, Cold Stone Creamery and Wahoo's Fish Tacos are among them. Jon Benevedes, owner of Fresno's other Wahoo's location in northwest Fresno, said the new spot will host a full bar.

Kashian, who built River Park and is behind the Fancher Creek project in southeast Fresno, said he hopes to lease to local businesses instead of national chains.

That's helped steer the project, but convincing local tenants to move in has been tough, he said.

"We're trying to be selective in what we're trying to accomplish, but some of the best local tenants have no interest in relocating or changing," he said. "We're having some difficulty, but not a lot."

Other businesses have signed leases, Kashian said, but not made their plans public. An unnamed brew pub and another restaurant are among those that have finalized retail spots.

Kashian was tight-lipped on details, saying his company policy is to allow retailers to announce their plans. In the past, he has said a small grocery store and clothing stores likely will be part of the mix.

About 50,000 square feet — one-third of the total retail space — will be devoted to restaurants and other food vendors. The most recent project blueprint shows about a dozen buildings surrounding a central green space of lawn and trees.

The project also will include a cinema boasting the largest screen in the Valley. The lease on that space is in the works, he said, adding that the movie theater will show art films and allow Fresno State to use its auditoriums for certain large classes.

Finding a suitable theater operator has been challenging: Kashian initially struck a deal with former California State University trustee Moctesuma Esparza to operate the theater with his company, Maya Cinemas North America Inc.

But those plans crumbled in 2007 when the Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis — which has a movie theater — sued, alleging the deal was a conflict of interest because of Esparza's ties to the university. A Fresno County Superior Court judge ruled that there was a conflict of interest but didn't cancel the project. It's unclear whether that company still is pursuing the lease.

Multiple phone calls and emails to Maya Cinema's corporate office were not returned.

Meanwhile, Fresno State and other stakeholders are showing a new interest in securing space at Campus Pointe.

Debbie Adishian-Astone, executive director of auxiliary operations at Fresno State, said the university is considering leasing space there to house its auxiliary services department.

The Fresno State Police Department and a Bulldogs apparel store also are considering leasing space.

"We're also looking at some other potential academic programs as well," Adishian-Astone said, "but nothing has been finalized."

New Fresno State President Joseph Castro says he is excited to "help the project realize its full potential." He said he collaborated on public-private partnerships while working within the University of California system and said he "will draw upon these and other personal and professional experiences on this important project."

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin was unavailable for comment last week.

Ed Kashian, who built River Park and is behind the Fancher Creek project in southeast Fresno, said he hopes to lease to local businesses instead of national chains.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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