Forest City Backs Out of Downtown Redevelopment Deal

March 13, 2009 11:55:28 PM PDT
Their plans looked exciting, but after five years of delays, Forest City Enterprises wasn't able to do anything in downtown Fresno. On Friday the company told city leaders, including city council member Cynthia Sterling, their deal to develop 85 acres near the city owned baseball stadium was over. "The financial gap was just too great, and they weren't able to sustain their project at this particular time." Sterling said.Sterling is hoping Forest City comes back when times get better. But some business owners like Bruce Baskin are glad the big out of town developer is gone. "Well, I'm kind of relieved actually, you know we've had the threat of downtown revitalization hanging over our head for quite a few years now, and it's just good to know where you're at," said Baskin.

Baskin's upholstery shop has been in his family for four generations, downtown for more than 90 years. Under Forest City's plans, the shop, and several other longtime businesses would have been forced to move to make way for condominiums. Developer Reza Assemi, who's building condos and apartments downtown sees the departure of Forest City as an opportunity. "I think the positive way to look at it is that it's opening that much more possibility for local people to come and open up downtown project areas for more things to happen," said Assemi.

By giving Forest City exclusive rights, and using the threat of condemnation to take property Baskin feels the city stifled other development. "You don't want to buy a building sink a bunch of money in it and have the city come in and eminent domain your building," said Baskin.

Forest City spent half a million on environmental impact studies, but their project would have put the city on the hook for one hundred million dollars for the first phase alone. The total tab to the taxpayers would have been 160 million. About a third of the total project cost. The withdrawal of Forest City could bolster Mayor Ashley Swearengin's recent pledge to rebuild downtown one building at a time. The Mayor has planned a public meeting at City Hall on Monday to discuss her plans for downtown.

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