Joshua Tehee

How has downtown Fresno fared against the TeeHee (or is it Tehee) Challenge?

Aaron Blair is the Chief Executive Officer of Downtown Fresno Partnership. He is tracking the progress of revitalization in downtown.
Aaron Blair is the Chief Executive Officer of Downtown Fresno Partnership. He is tracking the progress of revitalization in downtown. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

When the Downtown Fresno Partnership launched its Create Here Business Plan Competition in June, I used the opportunity to put together a wish list of businesses I’d like to see come to the area. The list was based partly on conversations I’d had with friends while strolling down the six-blocks of Fulton Mall and also of my own desires, having lived downtown for close to a decade. I also happen to work in the area and spend a majority of my time here.

The partnership used that list as an opportunity to track the progress of downtown in what it jokingly referred to as the TeeHee Challenge. Following the announcement of competition’s winner last week, the partnership’s CEO, Aaron Blair, sent me an email update.

“For 17 long weeks we have tried our best to reach the goals of your wish list, but it seems that we have come up a little short. We do apologize for being inadequate, and hope that you can forgive us,” he says.

While the email was obviously sent (and taken) in jest, it does provide some insightful information about downtown developments.

Here’s the breakdown, based on my original list.

1. Another brewery

“We were hoping for just a brewery but accidentally snagged a restaurant too,” Blair says.

He’s referring to the winner of the business plan competition, Sanger brewery House of Pendragon, which teamed up with Visalia’s Pita Kabob on a collaborative gastropub. House of Pendragon will provide the beer and Pita Kabob will provide the food at this 7,000-square-foot space at Van Ness Boulevard and Inyo Street. The brewery/restaurant is scheduled to open in February.

My take: If the restaurant is anything like Pita Kabob’s gastropub in Visalia, it could quickly become my new favorite spot.

2. Gym

A full-service gym is an obvious amenity for anyone who lives or works downtown.

Until now, it was also an untapped market.

There are three gyms planned for the area, Blair says, including Fitness 365 (scheduled to open in the new City View building on Van Ness Avenue), Xcelerate fitness (in the basement of the new Bitwise South Stadium building) and a possible Downtown Fitness Club (set in the the old YMCA building, which has been vacant since 2009). There is also the just-opened Heartbeat Boxing, even though it is not a traditional gym and might technically be outside downtown proper. It sits at Van Ness and Los Angeles Street.

My take: Getting these kind of amenities downtown is a direct reflection of the growth in residential density and a positive change in attitude about the area.

3. Pizza place

“We keep searching for the perfect tenant mix that includes a pizza place or two,” Blair says. It just hasn’t happened yet.

In the mean time, Pita Kabob will have flatbread pizza.

Also, Zamore Pizza Truck is hiring and might be opening a new restaurant that could end up downtown. That’s according to the pizza truck’s Facebook page anyway, Blair says.

My take: I’ll keep waiting for pizza place with a hang out vibe. As long as Diciccos delivers, I’ll be fine.

4. Book store

Blair agrees that downtown would benefit from having a brick-and-mortar book shop. While there are no official announcements he knows of, he points out the Facebook and GoFundMe site for Fulton Booksellers, which appeared in September and got some people (myself included) excited with its pictures of a vast collection of books.

“Maybe there is something there,” Blair says.

My take: Fresno can support a bookstore downtown. It’s just a matter of time. For the doubters, keep this in mind: There are now three records stores in the Tower District. Who would have though that was possible even three years ago?

5. Art-house movie theater

I envisioned this as a full-time Fresno Filmworks in one of downtown’s vacant theaters.

“All I can say is maybe next year,” Blair says.

My take: It was last on my list because it is the least likely to happen.

While the score is two of five on the TeeHee challenge, Blair notes that there are plenty of businesses outside my list that are in various states of development. They include The Republican Bar and Bistro in the former Downtown Club; the Bitwise South Stadium project and with it Xcelerate fitness, a UPS store, Cafe Corazon and a new, expanded location for Mabel’s Kitchen; the community general store Root, which opened next to Peeve’s Public House last week; Workspace at the PSW Building; The Stacking Shed, where the sandwich shop Packing Shed used to be; Raw Fresno and the Tree of Life Café.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee