Joshua Tehee

Don’t be confused by setbacks; changes in downtown Fresno won’t quit

The Lede, a new Granville urban development, held a grand opening event Wednesday, Sept. 28. The name of the development, which is located at Fulton and Stanislaus Streets across from the original Fresno Bee building in downtown Fresno, pays homage to a print journalism term.
The Lede, a new Granville urban development, held a grand opening event Wednesday, Sept. 28. The name of the development, which is located at Fulton and Stanislaus Streets across from the original Fresno Bee building in downtown Fresno, pays homage to a print journalism term. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Last week, Peeve’s Public House announced its official closure, ending months of speculation as to the fate of the popular downtown restaurant/venue/third space.

The week before that, Darius Assemi confused everyone by holding the grand opening of Granville Homes’ latest live-work development, The Lede, and announcing he was done with building in the area and would be putting his collection of Mural District properties up for sale.

So while city officials – and also cheerleaders like me – will tell you the area in on the tipping point of a true revitalization, if not a full-on renaissance, an anchor business closes and a key stakeholder seems to be walking away.

What gives, we’re left to wonder.

For as long as I’ve been paying attention, downtown has existed in this state of flux. There have always been pockets of activity and excitement. It’s the landscape that changes.

During Alan Autry’s tenure as mayor, Kern Street east of Van Ness looked to be the hub of revitalization. There were million-dollar upgrades, new trees and urban lighting. There was talk of turning the whole thing into a Sports Walk that would lead all the way to the stadium and feature an accompanying Hall of Fame museum. Obviously, those plans never materialized.

For a while, Iron Bird Cafe looked to be the needed anchor on the north end of Fulton Street. The now-defunct Twee Boutique was part of the resurgence of the Warnors Theatre Complex, which included the reopening of and rebranding of Frank’s Place. There was a time when the galleries at Broadway Studios housed a thriving scene of young, working artists. They have mostly moved on.

When Peeve’s was at its best, that section of the Fulton Mall seemed key to revitalization efforts. In its absence, another pocket will emerge to take its spot, no doubt.

I’m looking south of the stadium where Tioga-Sequoia has its popular beer garden within walking distance of Bitwise’s South Stadium, the Yoshi Now! popular vintage store is located, and Lanna Coffee’s brick-and-mortar space sits. The rebranded Full Circle Brewing Company is not far away, off F Street – certainly close enough for a trip on a bar-bike.

Some other things of note in this discussion:

Transplants

There are businesses expanding into downtown. For instance, CHARburger, which opened in August on L and Kern Street and is highly recommended. By me. The Brussels sprouts drizzled with Fresno chili honey sauce are, on their own, worth a visit. It is the second restaurant from Catherine Heaney, who also owns Char, the French-inspired bistro in downtown Visalia.

There are rumors that Quesadilla Gorilla, which also operates on Visalia’s main drag, is looking to open a space in downtown Fresno.

That is in addition to Pita Kabob, which has three locations in Visalia and is expanding into Fresno with a long-awaited downtown restaurant collaboration with the brewery House of Pendragon.

South of Shaw

Investors are beginning to look south of Shaw Avenue. Last month, the Beverly Hills-based Omninet Capital announced plans for a transformed Manchester Center that would include an “artisan food community,” exterior shopping area and an outdoor events plaza. It would add a half-dozen new restaurants to the area including Chipotle and The Habit, Green’s Family Grill, Med Wraps Cafe, Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats & Brew, and Yummyz Street Treats.

And just this week, the popular Steak ’n Shake restaurant announced its first Fresno location would be on Kings Canyon Avenue.

This is a good sign that investors, at least, aren’t concerned with the negative perceptions that exist in the southern parts of town. That is a major hurdle that can only help downtown.

New investors

Last month also saw the launch of Fulton Street Investors, which looks to have locals resources to buy and renovate downtown real estate. The investment fund is an alternative to the big developers’ wealthy out-of-state investors. This is an opportunity for those who believe in the value and potential of downtown and are looking to buy in, which they can do for as low as $500.

Sam Hansen

Hansen has gotten no shortage of press for his work as the marketing ninja at The Fresno Grizzlies – a title he created for himself, no doubt.

And with good reason. The guy helped redefine Fresno’s food culture by making tacos something to be proud of. He got 2,000 people to show up on a random Tuesday to eat at a pop-up restaurant that paid homage to a rapper.

He’s a genius marketer and an arbiter of pop culture and is on record saying his only reason for being in Fresno – instead of moving to a bigger, better market – is to build a thriving urban hub for the Valley. That is a guy we need championing the cause.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

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