The long-awaited retail phase of the Campus Pointe project at Fresno State is set to begin construction today.
By this time next year, some of the dusty lots that have sat empty east of the Save Mart Center will be home to Heritage Theatre, a 2,700-seat movie complex, and to 250,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
Some of the first 12 tenants at "The Square at Campus Pointe" will be Wahoo's Fish Tacos, Cold Stone Creamery, The Mad Duck, Yogurtland, Bella Nails & Spa, Tapioca Express, ScreenWorks and Wok It Out, the university and developer announced during a Monday morning news conference and ground breaking.
The joint project between the university and Fresno development company Kashian Enterprises is the largest mixed-use public and private partnership in the California State University system, said Fresno State President Joseph Castro.
"I believe that this is one part of our future, a really important part involving collaboration between the public and private sector to serve our students effectively," Castro said. "I believe other universities will follow where it makes sense for them to have such developments."
Campus Pointe will create part-time jobs and internships for students while providing shopping and dining options so they don't have to leave campus, he said.
And the project "will have a positive economic impact for Fresno and Clovis," Castro said. "This project is seen as a catalyst for reinvestment that we believe will encourage additional retail growth in the immediate surrounding area of the campus."
The 45-acre development was first proposed in 2005 but met some challenges along the way, including the economic downturn and a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis -- which has its own movie theater.
Ed Kashian, the developer, originally struck a deal with former California State University trustee Moctesuma Esparza to operate the theater with his company, Maya Cinemas North America Inc.
The mall sued, alleging the deal was a conflict of interest because of Esparza's ties to the university. A Fresno County Superior Court judge agreed there was a conflict of interest, but didn't cancel the project.
In 2011, an appellate court gave the project the go-ahead to proceed.
Esparza was at the groundbreaking on Monday as the chief executive officer and founder of Heritage Theatre, a different company that was ultimately chosen by Kashian to run the movie complex.
Esparza has not been on the university board of trustees since 2007, the university said.
The 70,000-square-foot movie complex will have 16 screens, including one of the biggest movie screens in the Central Valley at 72-feet wide, Esparza said. Most movie theater screens are up to 45-feet wide, he said.
A cry room will be constructed on a mezzanine level of the theaters where families with small children can watch movies.
The theater is expected to hire about 200 people -- from construction workers to janitorial and security staff and full-and-part-time theater positions, Esparza said. The theater will also establish a scholarship program for students.
The Mad Duck Neighborhood Grill & Taphouse, which opened its first restaurant at Willow and Herndon avenues four years ago, will expand to Campus Pointe with another restaurant and its first brewery.
"We're all young, hard-working guys and there are a lot of young, hard-working people here so it seemed like it would be a good spot," said Alex Costa, a Mad Duck owner who grew up on campus where both his parents worked.
Costa and his partners plan to hire about 50 employees, mostly students, and is working with the university to create an internship program.
The Benevedes family will bring its Wahoo's Fish Tacos and Cold Stone Creamery chains to the new retail center where Kashian has said he hopes to lease to local businesses instead of chains.
"We're born and raised here in Fresno and we love our community," said Annette Benevedes, owner. "We're excited about the center and the project. It just seemed like the right fit for our family."
Benevedes attended the ground breaking with some of her 11 grandchildren who she hopes will be Fresno State students some day.
"It won't be long before they're scooping ice cream," she said.
Skip Rolf, a commercial broker with Sperry Van Ness in Clovis, said the diversity of the tenants named so far, the strength of the team behind the project and its location will help other retail areas in Fresno and Clovis grow, not hurt them.
"This will be an awesome shopping center and will be a huge addition to the community," said Rolf, who was not involved in the Campus Pointe project. "I'm excited because that project isn't bringing your standard ho-hum tenants. They're bringing wow tenants."
Future phases of the development include office buildings, a hotel and a senior housing project.
First 12 Campus Pointe Tenants:
Heritage Theatre, Beach Hut Deli, Bella Nails & Spa, Cold Stone Creamery, Tofas Mediterranean Grill, The Mad Duck, Pieology, ScreenWorks, Tapioca Express, Wahoo's Fish Tacos, Wok It Out and Yogurtland.