Bitwise might add old raisin warehouse to downtown Fresno’s tech revolution

An artist’s rendering of the potential renovation of a 91-year-old warehouse at Ventura and R streets in downtown Fresno. Bitwise Holdings LLC has submitted plans to convert the former raising packinghouse into an office building.
An artist’s rendering of the potential renovation of a 91-year-old warehouse at Ventura and R streets in downtown Fresno. Bitwise Holdings LLC has submitted plans to convert the former raising packinghouse into an office building.

A vacant, 91-year-old warehouse in downtown Fresno may breathe new life as another location of fast-growing technology hub Bitwise Industries.

Bitwise Land Company LLC, which involves developer Will Dyck and Bitwise Industries co-CEO Jake Soberal, purchased the building at Ventura and R streets near Highway 41 in late October for a reported $938,000.

The two-story building was built in 1925 as a raisin packing plant, and was a paper distribution warehouse from 1937 to 1972. But it is probably best known to many Fresnans as the former site of Old Spaghetti Factory from 1976 to 1995, when the chain restaurant moved to Shaw Avenue in northeast Fresno.

Since 1995, it’s seen a swirl of occupants, including restaurants, music venues and other businesses.

The J.B. Inderrieden Building was designed and built by architect/engineer/builder James A. McCullough at a cost of about $100,000. It has about 36,600 feet of space over two floors, plus a basement of more than 9,800 square feet, according to Fresno County assessor records.

Fresno’s Historic Preservation Commission has nominated the site to the city’s Local Register of Historic Resources, a recommendation that will be considered by the Fresno City Council in January. The nomination is based on the building’s merit as an example of the Industrial Concrete architectural style with Period Revival influences, as well as its importance in Fresno’s fruit-packing industry.

“Warehouses of this type are somewhat common throughout the region, but there are few local examples of this architectural calibre,” according to a 1994 historic resources report prepared for the state Department of Parks and Recreation. “It has architectural distinction and is the work of a prominent local engineer and builder.”

Bitwise Holdings LLC provided plans to the city earlier this year “for the restoration and adaptive reuse of the warehouse as a second site for Bitwise Industries to house technology startups,” Karana Hattersley-Drayton, Fresno’s historic preservation project manager, said in a report Monday to the historic commission.

In addition to the three-quarter-acre lot the building occupies, Bitwise Land Co. also bought the adjacent one-third-acre parking lot in front of it.

Although plans submitted to the city identify the project as “Bitwise 41,” Soberal said the technology company has yet to decide whether the building will be developed for Bitwise or by Dyck for some other purpose.

“It’s a beautiful building, and one of the most historic in Fresno,” Soberal said this week. “It’s one of the buildings we’ve got to get right in downtown Fresno.  We’re really considering it closely.”

Soberal said he anticipates a final decision on the building in early January, when he also expects to announce plans for additional expansion of Bitwise to between 100,000 and 200,000 square feet of space in downtown Fresno.

Bitwise has been praised by the city as a leading example of adaptive reuse of an aging downtown building after it bought the 100-year-old Phelan Garage building at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Mono Street and spent about $7 million to renovate it into Bitwise South Stadium, a 50,000-square-foot hub for technology startups, training classes and related businesses. The building opened in October 2015, even as Soberal promised additional expansion in the future.

“We’re looking pretty aggressively at almost anything in downtown,” Soberal said Wednesday.

Dyck also undertook the seven-year, $13 million renovation of Warehouse Row, a trio of aging warehouses on P Street between Mono and Inyo streets, a short distance east of the Inderrieden building, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s office on R Street about a block north.

At Ventura and R streets, the plans from Bitwise Holdings will preserve “character-defining features of the building” including a stepped parapet, art deco decorative elements and the arrangement of exterior doors and windows, Hattersley-Drayton said. “New windows will replace the existing (ones), although they will have true divided lights. An outdoor patio and freestanding restaurant will be located to the ‘north’ of the existing warehouse but will have no adverse effect to the historic character of this former raisin packing plant.”

Dan Zack, assistant director of the city’s Development and Resource Management department, said the Historic Preservation Commission determined at its meeting Monday that “the conceptual plans for the restoration and rehabilitation of the Inderrieden Building were found to be in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards” for historic preservation and were approved by the commission.

Those plans still have to be approved by the city’s planning division, but if the City Council agrees in January to designate the building as a historic resource, “the property owners will be able to use the California Historical Building Code, will be eligible for certain exemptions from the city’s Development Code, and will be eligible for a  property tax deduction,” Zack added. “Due to the age of the building, the property owners can already apply for a 10 percent tax credit on the rehabilitation costs.”