Fresno-area builder Darius Assemi of Granville Homes is selling his collection of Mural District properties in downtown Fresno.
That’s nine properties for a total of 291 apartments including The Lede, which will celebrate the grand opening of phase two Wednesday and two smaller developments under construction on L Street.
Assemi said Tuesday that he is done building in the Mural District once the L Street projects are finished next year. He is ready for other development opportunities and expressed frustration over the challenges of building in downtown.
“Part of our goal was to revitalize downtown,” Assemi said. “We’re excited that other developers are looking at downtown Fresno to invest in residential, multifamily. This project is only listed for sale. If it does sell we will look at taking some of our resources and investing in other communities. It could be inside Fresno, outside Fresno. It could be other cities or communities. We’re looking for other opportunities.”
Assemi has been building in the Mural District for more than a decade following cousin Reza Assemi, who transformed the old Red Cross building in 1999 into artists lofts, paving the way for growth in downtown living.
Granville’s Fulton Village, finished in 2011, is among the list of buildings for sale. Van Ness Cottages in the Lowell Neighborhood also is on the list, as are many of the company’s newer projects that opened between 2013 and 2015 including 1612 Fulton, Brio and Bungalow Courts.
Iron Bird Lofts, perhaps the most well known of the downtown developments, is not on the list. Granville built the complex with Reza Assemi and Pyramid Homes.
Many of the downtown projects were possible with financial help from the city’s former Redevelopment Agency. Even so, building in downtown proved to be harder than anyone thought, said Assemi who has stood strong on the belief that “no city can be successful without a successful downtown.”
Assemi went as far to call downtown Fresno “the most challenging place to develop.”
“We’ve made several recommendations to our city government about how to make downtown easier to revitalize and develop,” Assemi said. “We’re hopeful that our local government will pick up some of those recommendations to make it easier for others to come in and have more certainty and less guesswork in the development process.”
Granville’s top recommendation is to make sure all the infrastructure is in place and updated to take on the new development. No. 2 is to do a survey of all buildings in downtown and go through an environmental process to identify buildings that are historic versus those that can be demolished, with feedback from the community.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin pointed to the specific plan, community plan and development code that will be presented to the city council in October as the answer for future development in downtown.
Darius Assemi started building “at a time when local government was not prepared to support the types of projects they did,” Swearengin said. “Everything was new when they first came into the market. I think we’ve learned a lot and now reformed the entire development code to reform more of what we’re seeing in downtown.”
On the positive side, there is a strong market in downtown. “I think seeing a transaction like this will be a good signal to the market,” Swearengin said. “They came in, had support from the RDA to do what they did. They experienced growth in rent. Someone else will come in and take it to the next level.”
The apartment market has been tight with minimal new construction, putting the Assemi properties in a sweet spot, said Robin Kane of Berkadia Real Estate Advisors in Fresno, which is marketing the developments.
The occupancy rate for the Granville developments is more than 95 percent, Darius Assemi said.
“Right now the rent growth communities as a business is good,” Kane said. “Timing wise it couldn’t be better because we rated top 5 or top 10 growth market. It’s all about timing.”