The Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board has rejected a request from Manchester Center officials to move its ground floor office from one side of the mall to the other to accommodate the shopping center’s transformation plans.
The Workforce board, a public agency that provides job training and placement services, decided Jan. 20 to extend an option on its lease to remain in its first and second floor offices for another five years. The mall is located at Blackstone and Shields avenues.
The agency takes up 32,768 square feet of space on the west side of the mall facing Blackstone. Manchester wanted to relocate the board’s first floor operations, which is approximately 7,000 square feet, to the east side of the center.
“They exercised their option and we’ll see what we can do to come up with an amenable plan,” said mall manager Mo Bagunu.
A mall makeover has been in the works for the last three years, but Bagunu and mall owner, OmniNet Capital based in Beverly Hills, have been tight-lipped about what’s coming. Last summer, links to a website and a sleek YouTube video detailing renovation plans – a new mall entrance, redesigned facade with signage, two-story food court and exterior shopping area – began circulating on social media.
Manchester was once Fresno’s premiere shopping destination, but over the years, retailers followed new construction north in the city or went out of business. In an effort to fill empty spaces, the mall started welcoming office tenants in 1999.
The Workforce board began operating its Comprehensive One-Stop Center at the mall in 2001. The Manchester office receives nearly 25,000 visitors on average a year, said executive director Blake Konczal. The agency has four other offices in Fresno County.
At Manchester, there is a large computer lab on the ground floor, phone banks and other technology available for the public to use in their job search, Konczal said. People with appointments are directed to offices on the second floor for one-on-one meetings.
The agency has 50 employees at Manchester. Another 30 people from partner agencies also work out of the office.
The board, Konzal said, considered relocating outside the mall and hired a commercial broker to search for new space. But “our criteria included being on a transit corridor and finding ground level space,” he said which limited possible new locations.
“With the number of people we’re seeing, we have to have ground floor footage that faces a major street.”