For many people, and for many years, Clovis was considered, “that small town adjacent to Fresno.”
It was indeed tiny when compared to our neighbor to the south. The 1940 population within the Clovis city limit was 1,626. By 1980, the inhabitants had increased to 33,021. In 2014, the number jumped to 114,599, an increase in the last 34 years of 81,578 citizens. That “small town” had grown into a bustling community with tremendous residential and commercial expansion in a relatively brief period.
Families found Clovis appealing due to quality schools, low crime, efficient city government and economic opportunity. By the 1970s, many small strip centers were built along Shaw Avenue and a new regional shopping center planned for the corner of Shaw and Clovis avenues.
What impact would it have on the small commercial area of downtown Clovis? Could it survive?
The actual changes to redevelop the commercial district of Clovis did not occur overnight. Each element of the recommended plan was phased-in over several years. To better understand the changes and timeline, allow me to review some interesting aspects that preceded implementation of the Downtown Clovis Specific Plan of 1983.
In 1971, the city converted management from the mayoral-council to a city manager-council plan. Having a professional city manager meant having someone who possessed the education, experience and expertise in critical areas of management.
This was an important element because the city was rapidly growing. Successful management required much more than simply loving the community in which one had been born and lived. Having professionals was essential. But as we will discover, compassion and caring were fundamental core values in Clovis leadership and the city’s ultimate success.
Clovis had completed a general plan in 1963, but the first comprehensive general plan was not developed until 1974. Immediately after acceptance of that document, the Clovis City Council focused its energies in planning the growth and development of more defined areas of the city. The southeast area plan and central commerical district plan were two such plans. Sylvia, my wife, was involved as a citizen participant in developing the southeast plan. I was appointed to serve on the citizen’s committee to plan the preservation, renovation and enhancement of downtown Clovis.
Many men and women worked on the implementation of the downtown plan, but in the early stages of redevelopment, there were four city officials who deserve mention.
One of the first of the professional city managers in Clovis was Edward Tewes. He worked diligently to facilitate growth and development of the city.
The second person was former mayor and councilmember Tom Stearns. He was the essence of enthusiasm for Clovis and it was contagious. Tom was loyal to the community, the Clovis Rodeo and Old Town. It was truly a joy to experience Tom’s enthusiasm. He jumped on the redevelopment bandwagon from the very beginning.
The third man was director of finance, Michael Prandini. Michael’s know-how and organizational skills allowed the financial process to occur with care and deliberate speed.
The final individual is John Wright, a visionary and director of planning. He played the central role in creating Old Town Clovis. He is also recognized for hiring talented and creative people including Mike Dozier, Tina Sumner, Jeff Witte and Dwight Kroll. All of these individuals displayed significant support for the redevelopment of the downtown area.
Having mentioned these people, I would be negligent not to acknowledge the dedicated, continuing support from all members of the City Councils and city staffs through the years. The downtown area has always benefitted by the commitment of people who could and did facilitate the necessary changes to make things better. They all worked with heartfelt devotion to this city.
Each group in their own way advocated for projects that supported the people who owned and operated businesses in Old Town Clovis.
We thank them for caring and sharing; the community is all the better for it.
Part Three of this series will highlight more of the individuals from the City of Clovis who worked diligently to bring this redevelopment project from concept to reality.
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a multi-part series on the history of Old Town Clovis, as told by Larry W. Gamble, a member of the Central Clovis Steering Committee in the 1980s. The committee provided input to the City Council on what would eventually become Old Town Clovis.
Read the first installment here.