Fulton Street is back in business.
That was the message of Fresno Mayor Lee Brand on Saturday afternoon as he officially launched the grand reopening of downtown Fulton Street, with thousands packing the narrow stretch of the street and crowds gathering at the Mariposa Street to celebrate.
Fire Squad Fresno, an independent booster club for the Fresno Fuego soccer team, marched while banging drums and waving flags.
And a VIP procession of classic cars carrying Brand and former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin also headed north along the street. Crowds yelled thanks to both for their part in the restoration project
“It will be up to me and my administration to implement the vision of Fulton Street,” Brand said. “I can promise you that we are ready.”
The Fulton Street project was completed under Brand but began in Swearengin’s second term when ground was broken in March 2016. Swearengin and others were convinced that a key to downtown revitalization would be to tear out Fulton Mall, which was opened to pedestrians, and restore vehicle access to the street.
Federal and state grants totaling $20 million helped pay for the work.
The two-block section of Fulton between Fresno and Tulare streets that opened Saturday represented the final stretch of construction, which was supposed to take 14 months but went on for 19.
Segments of the street had opened in September.
Another $5 million was spent to restore part of the historic character of Fulton Street – its artwork. The centerpiece is a 60-foot tower decorated with four clocks and lights. The clock tower was unveiled to the public Oct. 19 after it was fully refurbished.
In all, 19 pieces of art, including sculptures and water fountains, were restored and reinstalled near their original positions as the city worked to get everything ready for Saturday.
Brand said increased security is planned for Fulton Street and that his administration will work to make it easier to open downtown businesses that can give new life to downtown. Ten years from now, he hopes, downtown Fresno and Fulton Street will be vibrant and prosperous – something Swearengin said she had dreamed of since the project began.
“This has been a Herculean effort that has literally taken every minute of every day for almost 10 years,” Swearengin said, promising not to take as much time thanking those who have been a part of the project. She also thanked the hundreds of people who attended Saturday’s celebration of what she called “the rebirth” of downtown Fresno.
Priscilla Barrientos, 30, who was there with her three children, said she lived near downtown when she was young and most of her family’s shopping was done on the former Fulton Mall.
“We grew up off of everything here,” she said. “Fresno is growing so much and I’m glad they didn’t forget about Fulton.”
She now lives in north Fresno, but Barrientos plans to visit Fulton Street with her family when businesses begin settling in.
Merchants along areas under construction worried at first that amid the work and barricades that business would wither. But the city took steps to alleviate those concerns.
In March, a set of measures included validation coupons that merchants could give to customers for two hours of free parking in garages near the mall. In some cases, the city reduced or waived business license taxes and development permit fees.
Mattie Hill, 67, who lives in Friant, said her family remembers the old Fulton Street and they were there when it was closed off and converted to a pedestrian mall. They were all there again Saturday.
“We always knew once all the shops started leaving (Fulton Mall) that this was not going to be the best place to be,” Hill said. “But we always still had hope for a better Fresno. I’m glad it’s here.”