Historic, abandoned Hotel Fresno on track for apartment building renovation

The Fresno City Council recently took another step to allow the developer that owns the historic Hotel Fresno to rehabilitate the dilapidated building into apartments.

The council voted unanimously last week to allow the California Municipal Finance Authority to issue bonds up to $20 million for Hotel Fresno to be rehabilitated. The city will not be liable or obligated to repay the bonds.

The California Municipal Finance Authority was created in 2004 to promote economic, cultural and community development across the state through financing and charity. More than 300 municipalities, including the city of Fresno, are members of the authority, according to a city staff report.

Boarded up, but still imposing, the 126,600-square-foot Hotel Fresno, awaits the next chapter in its 106-year history. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Hotel Fresno, located at 1241 Broadway Plaza, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, opening the door for tax credits and renovation.

The bonds will go toward a planned $30 million renovation by the hotel developer, APEC International, LLC. The plans include turning the hotel into a 79-unit multifamily rental housing building.

Jimmy Cerracchio, the president and CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership, said potential residents in Hotel Fresno will create more foot traffic in downtown, which is always a good thing.

“It’s a very prominent building,” he said. “The key is having it look nice and get redeveloped to make downtown more attractive.”

Hotel Fresno was built in 1912 and designed by San Francisco architect Edward Foulkes.

In its heyday, it was considered the most luxurious hotel between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Among the famous names to stay at Hotel Fresno were Richard Nixon, silver-screen icons Gary Cooper and Victor McLaglen, and Hall of Fame boxers Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.

In its prime, the 13-year-old Hotel Fresno stands on a rainy day in 1925, at Broadway and Merced streets. FRESNO BEE

Between the 1940s and 1960s, the hotel underwent renovations, street realignments and multiple ownerships. By 1969, the hotel was a home for senior citizens, and the owners were losing tens of thousands of dollars each month on repairs. The senior citizens were evicted in 1983, and the building has been vacant ever since, falling victim to vandals and break ins.

In recent years, a grassroots group called Saving Hotel Fresno has advocated for the building to be placed on the National Register. The effort is led by Christopher Rocha, who also works for the Fresno Downtown Partnership and collects Hotel Fresno memorabilia and artifacts.

When he began collecting artifacts from the hotel, he did so in hopes his collection would eventually be displayed there when the building was fixed up.

“It’s exciting to see it come to fruition a lot sooner than I anticipated,” he said.

The bond approval by the city requires the developer to complete financing for the project by 2020, but it remains unclear when the project will be complete.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.