Charles Atikian may not be the key to downtown Fresno revitalization, but he certainly has the keys. They hang from a belt loop on his brown khaki pants.
As general manager of the 16-floor Pacific Southwest Building, the 10-floor Helm Building and five other properties on soon-to-be reopened Fulton Street, Atikian has become something of a gatekeeper.
Thinking about opening a restaurant, nightclub or cafe in Fresno’s newest entertainment district? Charles Atikian has a space for you.
Thinking about opening a restaurant, nightclub, cafe, galley or mini-mart along what’s being envisioned as Fresno’s newest entertainment district? Atikian has a space for you. From as small as 450 square feet (for less than $1,000 per month rent) all the way up to 3,800 square feet.
As the $22 million makeover of the former Fulton Mall winds down in anticipation of Fulton Street’s Oct. 21 grand opening, Atikian’s phone rings with interest. He’s given tours to everyone from reps of national chains to prospective first-time business owners from Fresno and neighboring cities.
The one common denominator? They all want in on the ground floor.
“It’s been quite impressive all the different types of people that want to come take a look at what’s available down here,” Atikian says. “I show spaces probably one a day, if not more, and over the last couple months it’s really picked up.”
A national convenience store has scouted multiple storefronts. Interest from coffee chains has perked up. In the 3,800-square foot location between Fresno and Merced streets, there’s competing interest from two local restaurateurs. (One would be a nightclub/art venue; the other would be a cider house/coffee shop.) A few blocks south, behind Chukchansi Park, a popular Mexican restaurant in north Fresno wants to open a second restaurant/night club in the former Luftenburg’s Bridal Shop.
That’s only a sampling of the buzz.
“Within the next couple months, myself and the owners will be putting tenants into a lot of these spaces,” Atikian says.
Compared to six years ago, it’s like night and day.
Charles Atikian, on interest in Fulton Street properties
For anyone who’s visited the Fulton Mall over the last couple dreary decades of its life, picturing a lively entertainment district suddenly springing to life may be a stretch.
It gets a little easier, though, if you see the transformation for yourself. The dark, inconvenient mall is gone. In its place is a well-lit two-way street flanked by wide sidewalks (24 feet on one side, 14 on the other) roomy enough for outside dining.
The new street’s layout, designed to save as many of the mature trees as possible, also better showcases the old mall’s extensive collection of sculptures and fountains.
“Fresno is in need of a new district that’s interesting and inviting to the general population,” Atikian says. “We don’t have too many fun and unique places to go, and I think downtown Fulton Street is going to be the newest, most unique space to actually come and hang out.”
If things at street level really take off, Atikian has a spot, two of them actually, that would take downtown revitalization to new heights.
When it comes to unique spaces, nothing in the region can top the 15th and 16th floors of the Pacific Southwest Building.
Built in 1925, Fresno’s signature high-rise houses residential lofts, law offices, an Armenian consulate, a hair salon and a for-rent work space. The two top floors of the 220-foot edifice have been reserved for a restaurant and nightclub that would offer sweeping views of the region.
“These are the cherries on top,” Atikian says while giving a tour. “There’s interest in these spaces, but they want to see the street done first and what happens after that.”
Atikian grew up in north Fresno but has been coming downtown since the early 1990s when his father opened a shoe repair/alteration/dry cleaning business. Six years ago, he quit his hospitality job at the Holiday Inn (now the Radisson) and assumed his current duties at the Pacific Southwest Building after it was purchased by Beverly Hills-based developer Sevak Khatchadourian.
The 32-year-old says his primary job is to “maintain consistency” in the properties he manages. In practicality, that means collecting rent, responding to maintenance issues, supervising construction projects and shooing away homeless. Just last week, surveillance cameras caught a vagrant smashing three ground-floor windows with a rock.
“Nothing like that happened in six years, then three (broken) in one day,” Atikian says while shaking his head.
The Pacific Southwest Building has three floors being rehabilitated (two with residential lofts, one with a law office) that will bring its occupancy rate to 75 percent. The next project, Atikian says, is the ornately decorated Helm Building, largely unoccupied since July 2015 when wire thieves started a basement fire that blew out the electrical transformers.
Partial repairs have been made, and Atikian expects the Helm Building’s four ground-floor storefronts to house “pop up” businesses being planned for Fulton Street’s grand opening.
The next step is transforming temporary businesses into actual signed leases.
“A lot of people in Fresno never come downtown unless they have to pay a parking ticket or report for jury duty, which I understand,” Atikian says. “But things are changing.
“If I’m getting calls every day asking about a storefront, from people who I know for a fact are collecting investors and putting proposals together, that means something has happened.”