Three downtown Fresno buildings are getting new life as they convert to offices and storage for small businesses.
Clovis-based VentureBay, OfficeBay and CargoBay are partnering with a property owner to bring their incubator-style business concept to the buildings.
The new projects announced Wednesday:
- The former Mexican Consulate building at Merced and N streets will become a VentureBay office building.
- The second story of the building that currently houses Goodwill on Fulton Mall is undergoing renovations to add 12 OfficeBay offices.
- Officials want to convert a large shed on the same property as the former Southern Pacific Railroad Depot to CargoBay storage space. The depot was already turned into an OfficeBay earlier this year.
On Wednesday, VentureBay officials showed off their plans for the Merced Street building to Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The consulate moved to Ingram Avenue in north Fresno earlier this year.
The 10,000-square-foot downtown building will house a VentureBay, similar to the one in Clovis. It will feature five offices for businesses with five to 12 employees.
The offices are designed for entrepreneurs or fledgling businesses whose owners don't want to fork over large sums of money as they get their start. The leases are month-to-month and include wireless Internet and phone service. The offices come fully furnished and have a shared conference room.
The first tenant, Khalsa Career College, has signed on to train medical professionals while it works on its permanent home downtown.
Dr. Virender Kaleka owns six area rural health care clinics and saw a need for an affordable school to train certified nursing assistants and other workers. He's launching the school at VentureBay, but will move it to 2721 Ventura Ave., which once housed an Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant. He said it could take up to two years before the school is ready to move.
The new VentureBay follows the opening of OfficeBay – which features smaller offices – in the former train station in March. The 37 offices there filled up within six months, said founder Case Lawrence.
Swearengin said this type of development is ideal for business owners who want to work downtown, but don't want to take on a lot of risk in this economy.
"This is a solution for people who need to start up quickly," she said. "[It's] a product that's really responding to downtown demands."
Lawrence is partnering with the owner of all three buildings, Fresno commercial real estate broker Robert Ellis. VentureBay and the other divisions of the company will manage the properties.
At the train station, Lawrence and Ellis want to turn a Pullman shed on the property into a CargoBay. The exterior of the open-air shed would remain intact and storage units would be built inside, he said.
The 1922 structure was built to provide shade for Pullman cars, which passengers sometimes boarded as the cars waited to hook up to a late-night train in the days before air conditioning, according to the city.
At 1025 Fulton Mall, Goodwill rents the first floor of the building and will continue, but 4,000 square feet upstairs is being renovated into 12 offices. It will be finished in two weeks.
All the offices, along with housing developments such as the Mayflower Lofts and GV Urban, are part of a changing downtown that includes new businesses and workers outside the government sector, Lawrence said.
"There's a ton going on downtown," he said. "There's a whole change of culture."