Taking downtown Fresno revitalization to new heights
Imagine yourself living in the upper floor of a high-rise loft. Instead of stucco walls, yours are brick and mortar. Instead of a stucco ceiling, yours is cement with exposed pipe. Instead of a backyard, your windows offer sweeping city views including a stadium.
This can’t possibly be Fresno, right?
Oh, but it is.
“People walk in the loft and go, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Fresno, at all,’ ” Jordan Gustafson says.
“It just has different character that you’re not going to find in a tract home. To each his own, whatever your preference is. This is mine.”
Gustafson lives in the Pacific Southwest Building. Built in 1925, it endures as Fresno’s signature high-rise, even though the 16-floor edifice with the sloping red roof has long served as a reminder of another era.
Except things – and attitudes – are slowly changing. All the way down to the ground level.
It’s like I’m a maze runner.
Jordan Gustafson, downtown Fresno resident
Gustafson’s yard is the Fulton Mall, or what used to be the Fulton Mall. These days, the place is a giant construction zone as crews prepare to open Fulton Street to traffic for the first time since 1964. For now, whenever Gustafson exits her front door, either to walk or bike to her job at Bitwise Industries or just go out with friends, she’s confronted by a chain-link fence.
“It’s like I’m a maze runner or being in a labyrinth,” the 31-year-old says. “Every day I walk out my front door and the construction crews have shifted the gates. Every day my way to work is a little different, but now it’s just sidewalk which means we’re on the home stretch.
“I can’t wait to be able to park in front of my building.”
Gustafson didn’t grow up in a big city. She was raised on a Clovis farm, attended Clovis High and Fresno State and during her first job out of college, inside sales with the Fresno Grizzlies, commuted downtown from the north side just like everyone else.
But in 2010 when the New York Yankees hired Gustafson as a sales associate, she spent the next seven years living in the East Village, one of Manhattan’s younger and grungier neighborhoods.
And you know what? She discovered she loved urban environs.
About a year ago, after Bitwise co-CEO Jake Soberal recruited her back home, Gustafson figured she would buy a house in Harlan Ranch or the like and commute downtown because “it just sounded normal.”
Then she saw the Pacific Southwest Building and heard about the city’s $22 million effort to reopen its core street to cars and, hopefully, commerce.
“When I got back and got to see what was going on in downtown, I just fell in love,” Gustafson says.
When I first worked downtown, it was like, ‘Ugh, get me out of here’ and I only saw the negatives. But I’ve come back with a different, more mature perspective.
The Pacific Southwest Building has 12 residential lofts with monthly rents from $1,600 to $2,000. General manager Charles Atikian says there’s a waiting list nearly 10 deep. It’s part of a growing downtown community of more than 250 new apartments and lofts.
Downtown gets rapped for being unsafe, but Gustafson says she’s never felt at risk (one time she was mistaken for a prostitute) even though she regularly walks home late at night after visiting friends who live on both ends of the mall.
Opening up Fulton Street will only make things safer.
“It’s just night and day from what the mall felt like before: heavily tree covered and you didn’t know what was in each corner or what could pop out from anywhere,” Gustafson says.
“The new street will be open and very well lit. It feels new. I think that kind of the grunge and decay that was the Fulton Mall is now lifted, and people will want to see that. They’ll want to see this clean open space. I’m so excited.”
No need to wait until the street’s Oct. 21 official opening date to celebrate.
Every Thursday evening, when the Grizzlies are in town, Gustafson hosts a small gathering of friends for a pregame party. They sip Tioga-Sequoia beers, munch on hors d’oeuvres and take in the views before heading down the elevator and walking over to Chukchansi Park.
“Don’t think it gets cooler than this in downtown Fresno, or anywhere in Fresno, really,” says Devin Peralta, a friend of Gustafson’s whose family runs a citrus farm in Orange Cove.
“This is where it’s happening, this is where it’s starting to happen and this is where it’s going to keep happening.”
The 16-story Pacific Southwest Building, built in 1925, endures as Fresno’s signature high-rise.
As Gustafson and her friends exit the building and empty onto the sidewalk, I try to imagine two or three years into the future. When the chain-link fences are gone, all signs of construction vanish and the street open to traffic.
Will there be restaurants and bars, filled with people? Will there be 30 groups of friends enjoying pregame parties in their apartments and lofts before heading to the ballgame?
If so, people like Gustafson who want to work, live and play downtown are blazing the path.
Check it out
The Fresno Grizzlies are home for a four-game series against the El Paso Chihuahuas, Monday through Thursday at Chukchansi Park. Game time is 7:05 p.m. each night.