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Obama budget director calls Fresno’s downtown revitalization efforts “remarkable”

Shaun Donovan, left, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, tours the Fulton Mall on Wednesday with Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
Shaun Donovan, left, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, tours the Fulton Mall on Wednesday with Mayor Ashley Swearengin. tsheehan@fresnobee.com

New street lights were installed on the south end of Fulton Street just in time for Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to tour the old pedestrian mall as it undergoes construction to reopen for cars.

Fresno received a $16 million federal grant three years ago to help pay for the project. Donovan was in town Wednesday to check on the progress and talk about the federal SC2 program, also known as Strong Cities, Strong Communities, to work closer with local government to support economic development and downtown revitalization.

Fresno was one of six pilot cities for the program – along with Detroit; New Orleans, La.; Chester, Pa.; Cleveland; and Memphis, Tenn. – and is one of the best examples of what can be done, Donovan said during a meeting with The Bee’s editorial board.

Since the partnership started in 2011, Fresno’s unemployment rate fell from 18 percent to 8.7 percent, the city experienced a 20 percent growth in technology jobs and there was a 51 percent decrease in chronic homelessness, said Mayor Ashley Swearengin who also attended the meeting. The city worked on its land use plans and the Fulton Street revitalization is underway, she said.

Donovan applauded Swearengin’s leadership and the community for making it all happen.

“Fresno is remarkable in a national context as well in terms of how much alignment and progress there has been,” Donovan said. “These things can happen, but they don’t usually happen as rapidly and with as many different pieces coming together.”

Donovan last toured Fulton Mall (now Fulton Street) in 2012 to promote President Obama’s housing-relief bills when he was the Federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Things have changed a bit since then.

“I’m trained as an architect. I can see what this is going to be like 20, 30 years from now,” Donovan said.

But will the momentum continue?

“The next mayor needs to deliver and these things need to continue,” Donovan said. “All the foundation is in place. That makes me feel confident that the taxpayer is going to get the bang for the buck.”

BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee

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