City Beat

March 13, 2014

Bank of Italy building may get some action

City Beat

George Hostetter has his feet on the ground and his eyes on City Hall

Downtown Fresno’s historic but long-abused Bank of Italy building may get a flicker of life.

If so, it’ll happen at 2 p.m. Friday, March 14.

The chatter among top Fresno County officials is that the building could become the new home for District Attorney Elizabeth Egan and her crew. Egan’s office currently is in the nosebleed section of the old Del Webb Building, across Tulare Street from the county Hall of Records.

I once interviewed Egan in her office. There was a big piece of plywood in one of the windows. A stiff wind had blown out the glass.

Egan needs new digs. Besides, county officials say, it’s time to consolidate the district attorney’s far-flung fiefdoms.

The county has issued a “request for proposal” to developers. Among the RFP’s highlights:

* The county wants to lease, with an option to buy. The county wants to choose among 15-, 20-, 25- and 30-year leases.

* The building can be a remodel or brand new. It should have 67,000 to 77,000 square feet. Ideally, there should be at least 20,000 square feet of potential extra room for growth.

* A parking lot or structure must be included.

* The building must be located in the area bounded by Tuolumne Street, Broadway, Inyo Street and O Street.

Tuolumne is the southern boundary of Uptown. Broadway in this area pretty much ceased to exist after urban architect Victor Gruen created the ill-fated “super block” in 1964. Inyo runs along the south edge of Chukchansi Park and past the Spiral Garage. O is the street that separates the Hugh Burns state building from the county library’s main branch.

What buildings or under-utilized lots in this area would fill the bill?

The parcel (once home to the Droge Building) on the northeast corner of Inyo and Van Ness is out. The Housing Authority is hard at work building a commercial/apartment complex there.

Eaton Plaza (home to the Water Tower) is mostly grass and parking lots. But the dream of turning it into a park worthy of the name will never die.

There are parking lots in the northeast corner of this square (by the Chavez Education School). But unless you’re a walker like me, that’s kind of far from downtown’s government action.

Hotel Fresno! The building held so much sin in the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s. It could all be redeemed in the 21st century by the work of assistant district attorneys.

Maybe not.

That leaves Fulton Mall, soon to be Fulton Street if Mayor Ashley Swearengin succeeds in bringing back cars to it.

I took a walk past the Bank of Italy building about a month ago. I bumped into three people on the sidewalk who were talking and pointing at the building. Turns out they were architects/designers working for building owner Tom Richards, the well-known and successful Fresno developer. They said Tom is getting ready to remodel the building.

I took a walk along the mall with a county official last week. We stopped at the Bank of Italy building. He said Egan and her office may move into the building.

I chatted today (Thursday) with John Hays, principal administrative analyst with the county and the man who will receive the proposals for the DA Office’s new home. Hays said Richards has shown an interest in submitting a proposal, but couldn’t confirm that the Bank of Italy building is Richards’ preferred site.

I tried to speak with Richards today. No luck so far.

The eight-story Bank of Italy building was finished at the end of World War I. It’s been empty for decades. Red signs with a white X in the middle are plastered on the building’s sides, a signal to firefighters that the place is so dangerous they should stay out during emergencies unless someone is trapped inside.

Old photos of Fulton Street in its heyday show people going in and out of the Bank of Italy/Bank of America building. It’s hard to believe the Fulton Corridor will ever regain its spirit if the Bank of Italy building remains the disaster it is now.

Friday, March 14 at 2 p.m. — the rebirth may begin.

 

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About George Hostetter

@georgehostetter

George Hostetter, a Fresno Bee reporter since 1987, knows Fresno and the trappings of its government from the top of his hat to the tip of his shoes, which he wears out with round trips between the office and City Hall. Twitter: @georgehostetter. Email George at ghostetter@fresnobee.com or call him at 559-441-6272.

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