Smart growth and revitalizing the downtowns of Fresno and Clovis were the focus of two community forums Thursday, co-hosted by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and Clovis Mayor Lynne Ashbeck.
The duo used the event to announce a new study that focused on property tax revenues to assess the cities' growth potential.
Swearengin said Fresno is eager to "harvest" many of its deteriorating downtown buildings and bring them "back to life."
Old Town Clovis — a downtown that Ashbeck described as a "30-plus-year adventure" in the making — is a great model for Fresno as it works to reshape its downtown, Swearengin said. "Fresnans don't have to look far to see an incredible success story," she said. "Clovis is an inspiration, frankly, to the city of Fresno."
Swearengin said Fresno is still in the first 10 years of a 30-year plan to remake its older neighborhoods and that "we know it's worth the fight for the financial growth of our city."
The study announced Thursday was spearheaded by the nonprofit Local Government Commission, a Sacramento-based group that raised funds for the analysis.
Joe Minicozzi, a community developer and planner with Urban3 based in Asheville, N.C., conducted the study. The commission has been raising funds for the San Joaquin Valley Municipal Revenues Study since last summer, and Fresno's portion was started a couple months ago and completed this week.
His study reviewed city and county property tax revenues in six San Joaquin Valley cities. The key finding: that growth in downtown areas is usually a better bet for cash-strapped local governments than traditional urban sprawl.
To illustrate his point, he compared the Guarantee Savings Building in downtown Fresno to the newer River Park shopping center on the city's northwest side.
The Guarantee building is worth $7.1 million in property taxes and sits on .17 acres vs. River Park, which occupies about 141 acres and is worth about $206 million in property-tax revenue, Minicozzi said.
"If history is any indicator, downtown buildings like the Guarantee will continue to bring property tax revenue to city governments for years to come," he said. "The Guarantee occupies just a fraction of the space of a shopping mall, yet it produces 38 times the property tax revenue of the average of Fresno's large-scale shopping centers."
Swearengin referenced her hopes for the future of Fulton Mall on Thursday: A better downtown is possible if the city removes the "barrier" of the pedestrian mall to allow vehicles to pass through what had once been Fresno's Main Street.
She said Minicozzi's research comes at the "right time to help us."
Both Swearengin and Ashbeck said the study highlights dollar figures and uses data to back up what leaders intuitively know about the value of their downtowns.
The study found that the cities' downtowns on average pull in similar property tax revenues: about $12,300 per acre for Fresno and about $11,500 per acre for Clovis. The study showed that the average downtown property generates significantly more property tax revenue per acre to city and county governments than big box-style retail developments. In all six Valley cities studied, it also found that centrally located properties designed to serve multiple functions (retail, residential and office space) result in significantly higher revenue yields per acre than single-purpose properties.
Minicozzi said Fresno County's total real estate value is $122 billion, Fresno city about $31.2 billion and Clovis about $9.3 billion.
"The San Joaquin Valley has a lot to work with," he said.
Ashbeck discussed continued growth for Clovis from the perspective of what has already been accomplished in Old Town, a charming area of boutique shops and restaurants. She said Clovis hopes to expand on that development.
It's also important to consider the cost of "doing nothing," she said. Services and maintenance for a deteriorating downtown carry a price.
If cities have a vision for revitalizing old neighborhoods, she said the question should be, "If not now, when?"
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