After years of fits and starts, city officials broke ground Friday on the new Cultural Arts District Park at Calaveras and Fulton streets in downtown Fresno.
Fresno PARCS director Manuel Mollinedo said he hopes that the new park, which has been in the works for four years, will be completed by November. He attributed the delays to multiple surprises, including a costly demolition process because buildings on the lot contained asbestos.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the park reflects both the revitalization of downtown Fresno and the city’s commitment to providing green space for its citizens. That the city funded the project during economically uncertain times is a portent for “incredible things yet to come,” she said. When she leaves, she promised to leave step-by-step instructions for the completion of the parks and trails plan.
The park will cost about $1.4 million, most of which state grants will cover, and the city will contribute about $250,000. Mollinedo said the city has been reluctant to fund projects it may not be able to maintain. But recently, it has begun assuming responsibility of parks and their upkeep. As an example, he cited the recently constructed Inspiration Park, a $10 million site for able and disabled people.
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Councilman Oliver Baines said that historically, the city of Fresno’s biggest challenge with new projects has been maintaining them. He mentioned the pledge that Darius Assemi, head of Granville Homes, made to keep the park in good condition for two years as part of the city’s plan for maintaining it. Granville has developed apartments in the Cultural Arts District, also known as the Mural District, including the Brio! on Broadway complex, which surrounds the park.
Mollinedo said the city is working on formalizing a relationship with the business.
Sergio Cortes, a resident from the nearby Brio complex, said the empty lot has contributed to the blight of downtown. However, providing the park, a basic amenity, will help address the issue, he said.
“All eyes are on the Mural District,” Brio resident Veronica Stumpf said. “This park will help retain people. People are excited to move in, but will they stay?” She noted that Granville touted the park as an amenity during apartment tours when she moved in two years ago.
The city of Fresno acquired 0.77 acres for the park, which will feature a performing arts stage with colorful canopies, to reflect the district surrounding it. For the ceremony, Kepler Neighborhood School’s music ensemble performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which Mollinedo said he found symbolic of the purpose and spirit of the park.
“To me, this park is significant,” Mollinedo said. “Look at the title – it’s the first park we’ve built like it in the system.”
Currently, the 2016 ParkScore Index, published by the Trust for Public Land in Washington, D.C., ranks Fresno 97th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities, in part because park acreage represents only 2.7 percent of the city’s overall acreage. However, the city expects that its ranking will improve by partnering with 16 school sites for weekend use, plus the recent dedication of the two parks and the groundbreaking of the Cultural Arts District Park.