New businesses highlight Downtown Fresno revitalization

July 17, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Several new businesses are highlighting efforts to revitalize Downtown Fresno, even as others close up shop.

Action News visited old school and new school businesses Wednesday -- a tech hub and a restaurant -- both celebrating grand openings.

They have very different visions for themselves, but one common goal -- making it work in downtown. With the cut of a ribbon and the unveiling of mashed potatoes, Stephanie Mitchell celebrated the opening of her first brick and mortar business. Sumtin Ta Eat is the latest restaurant opening its doors in Downtown Fresno.

"I believe that God sent me to this building, even the way that I found the building, the way that I saw the sign in the building," Mitchell said.

Mitchell says she's going on faith that her Christian lounge can succeed where other businesses have failed.

County supervisor Henry Perea says downtown revitalization may finally be at a point where Mitchell's faith will be rewarded.

"I think there's a critical mass there that can support these types of restaurants," Perea said. "But what we continue to need is a 24-hour people flow and i think what's happening at the other end of the mall with all the residential development that's occurring, that mass is growing."

New homes are popping up quickly in the downtown area, thanks in part to big incentives from the city. Developers get subsidies to build, and businesses get a tax vacation and their permit fees cut in half.

"Given these economic times, I think we're doing probably as much as we can," said Craig Scharton, the city's Director of Business Development.

But progress has still been slow and businesses like the Downtown Club have closed and Luftenberg's bridal shop has chosen to move to north Blackstone Avenue.

Bitwise Industries is taking progress in the other direction, though. It quickly filled this tech hub downtown, attracting 12 businesses with three promises: Every business would be involved in the tech industry, there would always be beer in the fridge, and working and playing downtown would be fun.

"Technology folks are generally early adopters to new things and downtown and urban environments where you can live, work, and play in the same space are attractive," said Jake Soberal, the CEO of Bitwise Industries.

It only took three days to fill the Bitwise building and Soberal says the place is busiest between noon and 3 a.m. -- not 8 to 5 like most downtown offices.

With more spaces like Bitwise, restaurants and other businesses will have more incentive to move in, and stay open late.


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