EDITORIAL: More work for Fresno's Mayor Swearengin

FresnoFebruary 28, 2014 

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, is a candidate for state controller. She will give her State of the City address Wednesday.


After working five years on plans to breathe new life into the Fulton Mall, we will allow Mayor Ashley Swearengin a weekend to celebrate Thursday night's decision by the Fresno City Council to return vehicle traffic to our historic main street.

Indeed, members of her staff asked Council President Steve Brandau to call for an electronic vote. This was so pictures could be taken of the screen for what — based on council members' comments during the six-hour hearing — was expected to be (and was) a 5-2 vote.

But there is much more hard work ahead for the mayor and her administration.

Even though Swearengin will term out after 2016, she has a long-range plan to revitalize all of downtown. She now needs to do a better job of explaining how converting the pedestrian mall into a "streetscape" will stimulate economic activity and bring vibrancy to not only the Fulton corridor but other parts of downtown.

It also is vital that the mayor and other promoters of this plan make the effort to obtain communitywide buy-in for the Fulton conversion. This can be done by explaining that a thriving downtown is the best way to rapidly grow Fresno's general fund, which pays for essential services such as police and fire protection, street maintenance and parks throughout the entire city.

The Fulton Mall's future has stirred passionate discussion since its glory days ended in the late 1970s. So it was natural that the reintroduction of vehicles would be the focal point of this latest debate. That was unfortunate because the plan retains most of the best elements of the mall.

To be properly executed, the new Fulton must clean, restore and properly showcase the mall's world-class art collection. This will be expensive and it will require close communication with the artists and Fresno's art community. We expect nothing less.

We also ask that the people who opposed the reintroduction of vehicles take a second look at the plan. One of the features we like is the ability to close off traffic for big events — thus becoming a pedestrian mall again.

The name of the game today is flexibility. During Thursday's hearing, there was testimony from promoters that the new Fulton would lend itself to more big events and draw more people downtown.

Finally, it is time for Fresno's development community to invest in — and renovate — Fulton's historic properties. Several investors said Thursday night that the Fulton streetscape would cause them to put new money into properties they own there now or purchase other properties.

If our entire community gets on board with this plan, we can finally — and mercifully — stop talking about Fulton and simply enjoy it.


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