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Could Fresno’s Blackstone corridor become a foodie haven?

Pedestrians walk along Blackstone Avenue just north of East Dakota Avenue in Fresno.
Pedestrians walk along Blackstone Avenue just north of East Dakota Avenue in Fresno. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Can diverse food and a $75,000 grant revitalize the Blackstone Avenue corridor?

Fresno Metro Ministry intends to find out. The local nonprofit was one of 26 organizations nationwide awarded the Kresge Foundation FreshLo Grant for food development and neighborhood revitalization.

The money will be used in a project to develop a diverse foodie movement in the Blackstone corridor and its surrounding area.

Specifically, the grant will go toward surveys, interviews and community outreach. Through this, Metro Ministry plans to identify community members who could bring unique food and business to the corridor.

“It’s really to help people who are great cooks begin to meet their potential and start business or get involved in making this area better,” Fresno Metro Ministry executive director Keith Bergthold said.

The “Building a Better Blackstone CDC through Food Oriented Placemaking” project is expected to affect more than 50,000 Fresno residents – and 2,100 businesses along the 8 miles of Blackstone Avenue from Woodward Park to the downtown area.

The grant will also go toward pop-ups demonstrating healthy cooking, a local food guide and a series of workshops and events to bring Fresnans together to learn how Blackstone Avenue could become a cultural hub of food and activity in Fresno.

The project looks to include the area around the corridor in the development, hoping to enhance Blackstone as the spine of the community. The goal is to make Blackstone cleaner, safer and a more popular place to hang out, Bergthold said.

Vineyard Farmers Market, a large wooden terrace structure with 24 stalls for local fresh produce vendors, is on Blackstone near Shaw avenue. The owner, 75-year-old Richard Erganian, has run the Blackstone business for more than 30 years and has big hopes for the area.

“We’ve got to cater to the uniqueness of Fresno,” he said. “We need to give it some character, and I think it can be done.”

Erganian hopes developers can create mixed-use buildings lining Blackstone, with storefronts at ground level and residential options for all income levels above. Creating a pedestrian and bike-friendly urban environment designed to coax people out of their cars would change the feel of Blackstone, he said.

For this project to work, quality and professional consistency have to be at the forefront of new businesses hoping to add something different to the community, Erganian said.

Eventually, the plan is to stimulate economic growth in the area by creating more job opportunities and helping new business to emerge and succeed. Plans for new development show an emphasis on creating ethnic and cultural diversity, and helping Blackstone to become a community hub of art, culture and food.

The Fresno Metro Ministry is working with developers to build up areas for more stores, housing and activity centers in the area. Fresno’s General Plan outlined transit that would run down the Blackstone corridor. Land use along the routes was specified for mixed-use buildings for businesses, multifamily residences and activity centers.

“Last week, we just introduced our Bus Rapid Transit plan, and a majority of the work to be done will be up and down Blackstone,” said city spokesman Mark Standriff.

“It’ll be easier for our buses to maneuver,” he said. “You’ll be able to get from River Park to downtown in half the time using public transportation.”

Bergthold hopes this will drive economic growth and popularity, especially near Manchester Center, Fresno City College, Vineyard Farmers Market and the Tower District. Because they already have heavy traffic, these areas would be some of the first to feel changes coming to the corridor.

Out of 528 applicants for the grant, Fresno Metro Ministry’s Better Blackstone project was one of two California organizations to receive funding. The Kresge Foundation Kresge Freshlo Grant is an initiative between the foundation’s arts and culture and health programs to build up healthier communities.

Sydney Maki: 559-441-6141, @symmaki

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