Fresno council OKs Fancher Creek pact

The Fresno City Council on Thursday approved a development agreement for a massive retail-residential project in southeast Fresno that its backers say will rival north Fresno's River Park shopping complex.

Fancher Creek Town Center is proposed for nearly 100 acres on Clovis Avenue, between Belmont Avenue and Kings Canyon Road. The project, with hundreds of residential units located atop retail spaces and offices, has been envisioned by the developers and city officials for a decade.

City officials and developers Ed Kashian and Tom Richards had been negotiating the agreement, which describes the responsibilities of each side, for several years.

One of the sticking points was whether the developers would be protected from increases in processing fees for eight years. In the end, the developers agreed to pay any increases.

However, the deal does give the developers an eight-year protection from increases in existing developer impact fees and payment of any new fees. The agreement also makes the developers eligible for reimbursements and credits for things such as traffic signal improvements and a sewer connection.

But city officials and Richards made clear that the responsibility for funding and building the project belongs to the development company, Fancher Creek Properties.

Richards told the council that the project will be built in phases and won't spring up overnight. Richards said he hopes to break ground on construction of roads and utilities by the end of the year or early in 2011.

Council Member Mike Dages, who represents southeast Fresno, has been pushing city officials in recent months to settle their differences with the developers.

"One of the best things about this project is it will rival River Park," Dages said. "I'm looking forward to it."

River Park in north Fresno is the city's first so-called lifestyle center, a mix of big-box retailers, restaurants and smaller retailers. Kashian and partners developed The Marketplace at River Park and The Shops at River Park.

Richards said it's too early to identify Fancher Creek's potential anchor retail tenants, saying only that they will be of similar size and renown as those at River Park.

According to city documents, the project could have up to 1.2 million square feet of commercial space, including a multi-screen movie theater. Richards said he expects more than 500 apartments to be built in four phases.

Richards said the project will generate about 5,000 jobs and deliver a $1 billion boost to the local economy.

Dages said the project, being within easy driving distance of Sanger, Reedley and Orange Cove, will be a regional draw.

Southeast Fresno includes some of the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and has long needed jobs and shopping options. Dages said the project will be "the opportunity of a lifetime" for his district and Fresno.

Council Member Henry T. Perea said the project, with its economic potential, will be a blessing to all of Fresno.

"These are the types of projects that need to be approved if we're going to get people back to work," Perea said.

The big question with Fancher Creek Town Center in this era of severe recession and a recent string of local high-profile projects that failed spectacularly is simple: Will it get built?

Richards, a veteran developer in downtown Fresno, and Kashian have a record for getting things done locally. This was a point emphasized by Dages.

Richards also said there is a big difference between Fancher Creek Town Center and the proposed $400 million South Stadium commercial-residential project near Chukchansi Park. The out-of-town developer for the South Stadium project dropped out before anything was built, in part because of problems acquiring land from many property owners who weren't inclined to sell.

"We already own the land," Richards said of Fancher Creek. "It's going to get done, there's not a question. It'll change southeast Fresno. And it will change a lot of future development in Fresno. [People] will see how bringing in state-of-the-art [development] ideas can really benefit a community."