City Beat

City Beat: The delights of downtown Fresno

Sometimes downtown Fresno amazes me — in a positive way. Tuesday was one of those times.

I left the newsroom at 11:30 a.m. and walked to City Hall for a news event hosted by Council Member Clint Olivier. According to his press release, the steps of City Hall were to be site of an Ice Bucket Challenge.

I had no idea what that was, but it sounded interesting.

Olivier ended up getting a bucket (actually a large ice chest) of cold water poured on his head as he sat on the grass in front of City Hall.

“A bit cool,” a smiling Olivier said amid the ice cubes. “But it’s all for a good cause.” (I got a couple of good photos. I’ll post them Wednesday when The Bee IT experts show me how.)

The Ice Bucket Challenge is simple: Make a donation to fight ALS or get a bucket of ice water dumped on your head. Ice Bucket Challenges are happening all over America.

Olivier did things one better. He donated $100 to the ALS Association Golden West Chapter and took a bucket of water on the head. Rachel Eslick, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s governmental affairs manager, and Josh Reed, council assistant to Olivier, did the lifting and pouring. They appeared to enjoy themselves.

Olivier, ever mindful of the drought, made sure to sit on a particularly dry patch of grass.

Olivier had one final duty: Challenge three other people to decide between donation or bucket. He put the pressure on council President Steve Brandau, Republican party stalwart Tal Cloud and Claudia Ruiz, his own chief of staff.

Then I crossed P Street to sit on Mariposa Mall so I could call my wife, Mary. We chatted for 15 minutes about the usual family issues. We laughed over a couple of new stories about our 11-month-old grandson.

A woman, her back to me, was sitting on a bench near mine. She turned to me when I’d finished talking to Mary. The woman and I chatted about Olivier’s Ice Bucket Challenge (a worthy deed, she said), the slightly cooler weather and the state of the newspaper industry. Then she said it was time for her to return to work.

“Have a nice day,” she said to me.

“You have a good one, too,” I said.

All that warm cheer on a couple of Mariposa Mall benches. Wasn’t that what city leaders had in mind when they created the mall system 50 years ago?

Next I headed to Parks Department headquarters on Inyo Street in the New Exhibit Hall. I wanted to ask new parks director Manuel Mollinedo about the progress of the proposed pocket park in Uptown.

Three new parks have been in the City Hall pipeline for years: the Universally Accessible Park on Gettysburg Avenue west of Highway 99, Martin Ray Reilly Park at Chestnut Avenue and Highway 180 in southeast and the tiny park (three-quarters of an acre) on Fulton between Calaveras and San Joaquin streets.

Work has begun on the first two.

The $2.5 million pocket park in Uptown figures to have a personality all its own. There will be grass, an adult exercise area, a playground for 2- to 5-year-olds and places to sit. Granville Homes and the Assemi family have agreed to provide park maintenance for two years.

Granville continues to build in Uptown. Crichton Place recently opened. Work on Brio on Broadway (just to the west of the park site) is moving along smartly. No one is giving me any details, but it sure looks like Granville is getting ready to do something special with the area around the former Met building on Van Ness.

I asked Mollinedo: When do we get the pocket park?

His answer: Groundbreaking should come by the end of the year, with construction completed about nine months after that.

Uptown keeps getting more impressive.

The same is true for downtown.

I left the Parks Department and headed west on Inyo. I passed what used to be the Droge Building on the northeast corner of Inyo and Van Ness.

You remember the Droge Building. It was an important part of downtown in the early- and mid-20th century, but fell on hard times. The walls were kept standing with the help of long steel poles — hardly an inviting sight to visitors just arriving in downtown Fresno.

City View @ Van Ness is rapidly taking shape on the site. This is a 45-unit apartment complex with 3,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. What little was left of the Droge Building got torn down last year.

I was standing at Inyo and Van Ness on Tuesday, stunned by the emerging beauty of the new building. I decided to call Fresno Housing Authority CEO Preston Prince. City View is a Housing Authority project.

First, though, I noticed two people walking on Van Ness in front of City View.

The woman was Tiffany Mangum, special assistant to Prince. The man? “That sure looks like Jim Costa,” I said to myself.

I hustled over and, sure enough, it was Congressman Costa. Prince showed up a few minutes later. Housing Authority officials and project leaders had gathered to give Costa a tour of the four-story building.

“You remember the building that was here before,” Prince said to Costa.

“I helped knock it down,” the congressman said.

Everyone was kind enough to invite me along. We put on our hardhats and took off. (photos to come on Wednesday)

City View @ Van Ness is going to be special. There are tons of details that’ll come out when the grand opening arrives. But for now here’s what you really need to know.

* Work should finish Nov. 1.

* More than half of the units are already leased.

* Each unit (studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom) will have a balcony or direct access to the second-level courtyard.

* The idea is to give working people (ideally at downtown-area jobs) with modest incomes a cool place to live.

* The intersection of Inyo and Van Ness already has a whole new feel to it.

“Those cities that have been most successful have maintained their centers,” Costa said. “That’s what we’re trying to do in downtown Fresno.”

Added Prince: “This is the right investment for downtown.”