Forest City Gone- Mayor Trying to Move Forward

March 16, 2009 6:50:21 PM PDT
Private company Forest City has pulled out of a deal to develop 85-acres of Downtown Fresno. On Monday, the mayor called a community meeting to move the city forward. Kern Street is one sign that downtown development has not exploded like some people hoped. Tenants have moved into the old Hotel Virginia. A new coffee shop is open. But business owners are still struggling to survive. That's why Mayor Ashley Swearengin called all parties to the table.

Fixing electric motors has been a family tradition for Larry Kragh. Kragh said, "After school I worked here. Saturdays I worked here. The summers I worked here." Kragh's father opened Arrow Electric Motors in 1949. A decal in the shop proudly shows they are celebrating 60 years in business. Forest City officials proposed redeveloping the area around Arrow Electric. But Kragh feared the city would use the powers of eminent domain to condemn his property and take it from him. Kraugh said, "They want to steal the property from us and hand it over to a developer. If the developer really wants the property, hey bring your check book."

Monday afternoon, Mayor Ashley Swearingen brought city officials and downtown property owners together. The mayor proposed no major projects like Forest City. Swearengin said, "I'm hopeful that at some point, they may come back. But I'm not concerned. I don't think anyone saw them as the only basket to put our eggs."

Instead, she's taking a smaller approach. Business owners like Kragh want the city to first fix the simple stuff like broken roads. But others are thinking bigger. California's rail lines may soon be changing. Many at the meeting hope the state's future high speed rail will run through downtown and ignite a firestorm of construction. John Hernandez with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said, "When I think revitalize, I think we go back into a time machine or something of that. So i don't think we are ever going to have the old downtown. I do think what we are going to have is a reinvented downtown."

No major decisions were made on Monday. This was just an opportunity for people to begin talking about a way forward after Forest City. All of today's comments will be the basis for redeveloping the heart of Fresno.

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