The owner of a large Shaw Avenue office complex near Fashion Fair Mall is hoping to fill some of its empty space with live and work units.
Equity Ag Financial, based in the San Diego area, will work with tenants to design and build apartments with office space ranging from 550-square-foot studios to 9,000-square-foot penthouses. The units will be on the second and third floors of the building simply known as 770 East Shaw, behind Chase Bank on the northwest corner of Shaw Avenue and First Street.
The live-work concept is not new, but is seen mostly in downtowns across the country, including Fresno, where developers like Darius Assemi of Granville Homes have built entire complexes with residences on top floors and office space on the ground floor.
The Fresno building is Equity Ag’s first try at blending living space with offices.
“We’re told that there appears to be a market for it,” said Philip Posner, the company’s chief financial officer. Not everybody goes downtown anymore, he said. “People live and work wherever … so we believe it could work here.”
We’re told that there appears to be a market for it. People live and work wherever … so we believe it could work here.
Philip Posner, Equity Ag Financial’s chief financial officer
The 120,000-square-foot, three-story complex, built in 1978, has long been an office building. Equity Ag bought the property in 2000 and has poured millions of dollars into renovating the garden-style business center designed by Fresno architect Robert Stevens. The complex is made up of four buildings connected by walkways and corridors with a center courtyard.
Imported stone tiles decorate the walls; brick and marble line the courtyard floor, with handmade wood benches. Two hand-carved black marble Egyptian palace cats sit atop fountains, guarding the building tenants. Drought tolerant landscaping is being installed outside.
Office tenants include two state offices, accountants and financial companies, Realtors and the Fresno County Republican Party. About 30 percent of the building is occupied.
“Right now, it’s a mix of people and it’s always been,” Posner said. “They would still be there. Nothing would change. We would just add this to the mix.”
The plan is to start with four to six live-work units and add more if demand merits. The adults-only community would have gated entry and 24-hour concierge security. The apartments would have washers and dryers, dishwashers and new appliances. Tenants would have access to a banquet room with kitchen and meeting areas.
The company also wants to build a shared workspace on the ground floor, with desks that have phones, Internet and a common kitchen for daily users who want a small office space.
Equity Ag is banking on millennials who want the comfort of home only a step away, or through a door, from the office. And the company is hoping the building’s location, near restaurants and retail at Fashion Fair and access to Highway 41, draws people in.
We’re so excited to commence this project because there is nothing like it out here.
Luis Flores, project manager
“We’re so excited to commence this project because there is nothing like it out here,” said Luis Flores, Fresno-based project manager/compliance specialist for Equity Ag. Live-work units are “becoming the norm these days.”
Fresno real estate expert Robin Kane of Berkadia Real Estate Advisors agrees. The idea of getting into a car and driving to work is normal for Fresnans, but millennials and many people moving to Fresno from other cities have a different mindset, Kane said. Walking to work and not having a car and all that hassle commuting is native to them, he said.
Some people might question whether the concept will work at that location, but “it’s a great idea,” Kane said. The execution will be key to the success of the project, he said.
Kane does not know of any other large office buildings in Fresno, outside of the downtown area, with live and work units, but he said a strip of apartments just south of Shaw Avenue, across from Fresno State, has offices on the first floor and residences on the upper floor.
“I know the city is really hot on trying to get developers to rethink the concept of separating residential from commercial from entertainment,” Kane said. “So having those items combined is a reflection of where the industry is wanting to go.”