Valley Voices

An outsider’s perspective on the promise, and potential, of Fresno’s downtown

C. Kevin Eatherly
C. Kevin Eatherly Contributed

Fresno is at a pivotal point, progressing rapidly toward solidifying its position in the growing California economy. For the last six months, as a development specialist based in Arizona, I have been working on a project in downtown Fresno — the state of California building on P Street — and am compelled to share what a great position Fresno is in to attract investment.

Initially, not knowing anything about Fresno, the first thing that was interesting was the way the downtown is laid out — not being north, south, east, and west, like the rest of the city. This led me to the history of the railroad and Fresno’s early establishment as a railroad town. When walking around the downtown, Fulton Street caught my eye with its historic buildings, sort of a diamond in the rough. After learning that the street was reopened just over a year ago, the development momentum and untapped potential became more attractive. Outdoor dining, people coming and going, especially when there are events or games at the stadium creating a vibe.

My desire to learn more led me to the “State of the Downtown” event put on by the Downtown Partnership. The energy and excitement at this event from businesses that have stayed downtown or moved to downtown shows the faith people have in moving forward. The “I Believe in Downtown Fresno” campaign demonstrates grassroots passion for transformation.

As a couple working through Ale Trail, my wife and I hit Tioga Sequoia, enjoying craft beer, live music, and local food truck fare. Fresno’s music and passion for the arts have truly pulled us in. These are people making music for the sheer joy of performing. Art Hop, its individual artists, public art on Fulton Street, and the huge David Sassoon sculptor,shows the strength of local support for the arts.

Why focus on downtown? For an outsider looking in, the quickest way to understand any community is to spend time at its heart.

As a development specialist with more than 20 years of public and private sector experience, I have had the unique opportunity to obtain an unobstructed view of Fresno over the last six months. An unobstructed perspective because as a community, your view of things is often blocked by the challenges you work to overcome. As an outsider walking through your downtown, sitting in street-front dining, dropping in on the State of the Downtown address, enjoying local music, food trucks, restaurants, and talking with a huge cross-section of the community, I felt compelled to share what few people living here might recognize.

As Fresnan’s you live, work, play, and often divide and conquer where the family is concerned throughout the community, not recognizing that there are resources in place that are attractive to investors. Resources you use every day that you may not identify as attractive; resources like the things that drew me in — available, reasonably priced land, water, skilled workforce, logistics, parks, pathways and local history. The history and historic buildings make up the unique identity that only Fresno has.

This is a critical time for Fresno; what you do with these resources and how you connect these unifying elements over the next year will stake Fresno’s place in the growing state economy for the foreseeable future. What Fresno can accomplish over the next five years would normally take 15 to 20 years, depending on the community’s support for change. The things that could hold the community back — like poverty, lack of housing and joblessness — thrive without planning and imagining a prosperous future.

So, plant seeds, Fresno, and water your garden. You never know how fast you can reap the rewards of a bountiful harvest. Thank you for the opportunity to look through your window.

C. Kevin Eatherly, an Arizona resident, has been a development specialist for over 20 years. While updating the State of California building on P Street, he felt drawn to Fresno and its people. Currently, he is looking for new ways to attract investment in the downtown.