FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Thursday marked the beginning of the end of Fresno's 50-year-old Fulton Mall. City officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking on a more than $20 million project to remove the pedestrian mall and put cars on the street.
The ceremonial groundbreaking is seen as a key step in the renaissance of Downtown Fresno. Tearing out the 50-year-old pedestrian mall, and replacing it with a street is already said to be reaping benefits. "Since we passed opening the Fulton Mall one year ago approximately $100 million has been invested-- either directly on Fulton Street or within a block of Fulton Street. That's telling me the people that are doing it are major players who don't have too many failures," said Lee Brand, Councilmember.
Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin has been behind the push and won a major victory when she secured a $16 million federal grant and other funds for the more than $20 million project. While the mayor feels the way ahead is clear, legal hurdles remain. A group called the Downtown Fresno Coalition have appeals pending in federal and state courts. Spokesman Doug Richert said this groundbreaking is premature. "Obviously, any step toward destruction of the mall is a sad step in our eyes, and makes us unhappy and wishing it weren't so."
They've challenged the city's plan on environmental and other grounds, and while they have initially been ruled against, their appeals are pending. "Obviously, we are hopeful the court will find favor in our arguments. I'm a little disappointed in the city, just from a taxpayer standpoint, that they decided to proceed with such a major expense before all actions in court had been resolved," said Richert.
The actual construction or destruction of the historic mall begins at the end of the month, and many do see it as a positive step. "I think it's going to help a lot, actually. It's going to take the fear out of venturing out here if they don't have to walk, they can park out here and see everything we've done so far. It's going to be really great," said Christine Graham, resident.
That has been the main argument for taking out the mall. By not allowing traffic on what was once Fresno's main street, not enough people come down here. The hope is once traffic is restored vacant buildings and store fronts will come back to life.
In the meantime, the city council is considering steps to help the more than 100 existing businesses who will likely be affected by the more than year-long construction project.