High-Speed Rail

Businesses in high-speed rail's path face tough decisions

California's proposed high-speed train line is billed as a project that will transform transportation in the state.

But it also stands to transform Fresno's landscape from one end to the other if construction starts as planned next year in the city.

Up and down the line, along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks from the San Joaquin River to south of downtown, scores of businesses sit in the path of the trains that would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles at up to 220 mph.

Once a route is finalized, probably early next year, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will start negotiating with property and business owners along the route to acquire the right of way needed to build the tracks – and figuring out how to help businesses relocate to new sites.

Among the recognizable businesses and icons that stand to be affected are:

Klein's Truck Stop

For decades, the Klein's Truck Stop sign has towered over Highway 99 at Herndon Avenue, greeting truckers and other motorists entering Fresno from the north.

The place is now the EZ Trip Truck Stop, and the old Klein's restaurant where hungry drivers once stopped for chicken-fried steak or liver and onions is closed. But the tall Klein's sign remains a landmark for the big-rig crowd.

Owner Shawn Shiralian, who bought the truck stop in 2002, says he wasn't aware that the proposed line would run directly through his business on elevated tracks. He doesn't relish the prospect of selling or having to relocate.

"I'd fight through my teeth," he said. "This is our life."

For a business that relies on freeway visibility and convenient access, finding a new location is no simple matter.

"I'd have to go seven, eight or 10 miles down the road to find a place to rebuild," Shiralian said.

He estimated that it would cost about $10 million to replicate the truck stop and other businesses on his 19-acre property, including an AM/PM convenience store/gasoline station, a Taco Bell restaurant and a Burger King restaurant/Shell gasoline station.

Riverside Nursery

Mitch Hutcheson has operated Riverside Nursery along Golden State Boulevard, just north of Shaw Avenue, for about 30 years.

But about half of his five-acre site sits within the proposed right of way for the high-speed line. Until the fate of the project is decided, his plans to remodel the retail nursery, then retire and sell the business to his son, are in limbo.

"Their plan takes half of my nursery, which means I don't have a nursery," Hutcheson said. "They're putting a real screw to me. ... I can't spend the money to remodel, and I can't sell it, until they know if they're going to do this or not."

Hutcheson said he would welcome certainty in the situation, one way or another.

"If they want to pay me enough, I'll move, because you can't fight eminent domain," he said.

But in the meantime, he added, "there's just no end to the headache."

Astro Motel

The kitschy neon lights have been burned out for years, but the spire atop the Astro Motel remains a Highway 99 landmark – at least during the daylight – as it has since the 1960s.

"That sign, it's historical," said David Desai, who has owned the 15-room motel for about four years. "People know they're in Fresno when they drive by that sign."

But the motel and other businesses on the west side of the highway between Ashlan and Clinton avenues are likely to give way to high-speed rail – not because the tracks will run through their property, but because the freeway would be shoved west by about 100 feet to make room for the line, taking out the frontage road that provides access.

"I didn't know they would need to move the highway," Desai said. "That's really something new."

Desai said he thinks high-speed rail will be an expensive waste of money. "People won't ride it," he said. "They can go on a plane quicker."

But if the rail authority comes calling and the price is right, Desai added, he would willingly sell the motel.

Railroad Avenue

One would be hard-pressed to describe the industrial businesses along South Railroad Avenue as landmarks – they're well off most people's beaten paths, after all – but they're symbolized by perhaps one of Fresno's oldest icons.

A historic archway spans South Van Ness Avenue just east of the Union Pacific railroad tracks and, since 1917, has proclaimed Fresno as "The Best Little City in the U.S.A."

Just across the UP tracks and Railroad Avenue is Holt Distributing & Manufacturing, where Jesse Holt's office has looked out at the old sign for 40 years. But Holt's company and the arch are both potential casualties, subject to relocation if the rail line comes through.

"It will pretty much put me out of business," Holt said. "My customers know I'm here. Will they follow me across town?"

Holt's nine-employee company makes air filters for vehicles and industrial uses, and relies on precision equipment that cannot easily be relocated without extensive recalibration. Holt estimated that packing up his company and relocating would carve at least two or three months out of production.

"It would take a lot of money" to make moving worthwhile, Holt said. "I lease 17,000 square feet here for $3,100 a month. Where else am I going to find that much space for that price?"

That's about 18 cents per square foot. Local real estate pros say that depending on the size and age of buildings, industrial lease rates in the Fresno area are running between 24 and 40 cents per square foot.

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