Community reactions were mixed on Friday after Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and a number of politicians touted the benefits of reopening six blocks of the downtown Fulton Mall to vehicles.
While many business owners support the planned renovations, hoping they will provide an economic boost for a deteriorated downtown, some shoppers were skeptical. Still, most agreed that something needs to happen.
"This place was once the place to be -- cruising the mall," said 64-year-old Linda Chavez, recalling her high school years in the early 60s before Fulton and cross streets were converted to pedestrian-only. "Those were the good ol' days."
Ralph Atikian, 59, owner of Fulton Shoes and Repair, said he wants a street open to cars in front of his business.
"We have a lot of vacancies down here," Atikian said. "I love downtowns and our downtown is nothing. The dream is coming true, this is great."
With the $16 million federal transportation grant, 65-year-old Jaime Villanueva said he's optimistic that something is finally going to happen to help transform the mall instead of "just political talk."
"We need to have a change," said Villanueva, who operates as a gold and precious stone buyer through Acapulco Jewelers at the Fulton Mall. "I've seen a decline in business and the rest of the best known businesses are gone."
Lifelong Fresno resident Vincent Bracamontes, 45, who works in the Guarantee Savings Building downtown, said opening the mall to vehicular traffic could bring in larger national chains.
"You want locals, but you need a few of the big main-brand tenants to bring people in," he said.
But Jesus Castro, 37, of Fresno was skeptical as he relaxed on a park bench: "This will never be a River Park."
Still, he said, reopening Fulton to vehicles would bring in a more diverse group of shoppers, visitors and businesses.
Abe Jones, 31, who lives in Fresno's Chinatown, sat on the mall's clock tower with a protest sign near the rally held Friday afternoon.
"I like being in a place where there's not crazy traffic and noise," Jones said, adding he enjoys the public art, water fountains and shady trees. "I don't see how putting a road in will change anything. Fix it up, don't ruin it."
Columba Mares, 42, of Sanger said she thinks outside malls are making a comeback in popularity. Still, she said, she was only at the Fulton Mall on Friday to help a friend.
"When it changed, it really changed," she said, recalling downtown trips she used to take as a child from Reedley with her parents. "I don't come back here unless I have to."
Candice Arambula, 48, said she's been homeless for a year and half, and visiting the mall is her "escape."
Arambula is concerned that if a street is put in, live music and festivities held along the six blocks will disappear.
For lifelong Fresno resident Sheila Dickson, 59, the proposed mall plan is personal. Her father, now dead, helped rip up the street and lay the concrete for the current walkways.
"I think they should leave it alone," she said. "What are they going to accomplish by opening it up? It's a gamble ... They made a decision to make this a mall, it was voted on, and it should stay that way. It's too much money to spend."
"Sixteen million is a lot," added Werner Bambl, 35, of Clovis about the grant to repave the mall for traffic.
Lupe Padilla, 47, of De Alba Travel & Services said she and her nine family members, who operate two other businesses on the Fulton Mall, are strong supporters of Swearengin's plan.
Having traffic in front of her business will help a lot with advertising, she said.
"It's going to attract more of a variety of businesses, which is good for us all," she said, adding she's attended at least 10 meetings about the plans over the past several years. "We've been waiting for this news for a very, very long time."
Reach the reporter at (559) 441-6386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.