Downtown Fresno is closer to a ghost town than a boomtown. Buildings are empty or old, neighborhoods are poor, and foot traffic is underwhelming.
It's looked like this for decades now, despite several attempts at jumpstarting revitalization.
"We never really dug down deeply to see that the rules that govern downtown have been difficult, challenging, contradictory, and out of date," said Craig Scharton, Fresno's Downtown and Community Revitalization Director.
A $2.6 million investment is supposed to change that. City Council voted unanimously Thursday to pay an architectural firm to remake the city's plans for the Fulton Corridor and all of downtown.
We've heard this all before, but Moule & Polyzoides have a history of success in revitalizing urban centers. You can see what they've done in Pasadena. They've also fixed up downtowns in Santa Ana, Paso Robles, and San Antonio, focusing on getting several projects into development at once.
"So you can see 6, 8, or 10 buildings going up in places within the city that people can identify and say, 'Ah hah. So things are changing,'" said Stefanos Polyzoides, a partner in the firm.
It starts by streamlining the process of starting a business in downtown.
The city says the bureaucratic process of launching a business now takes 18 months and costs $250,000. The new plan will cut that to two months and $38,000. That way, this time around, the entrepreneurial spirit will live on, even after the architects and planners are gone.
"You can have 1,000 plans, but in the end, the planners leave, the politicians change, and the only people left are those who have to make these things happen, which is the citizens," said Polyzoides.
The consultants are on a three-year deal with the city. But they think the people of Fresno should start seeing progress within two years.