"I'm so pleased to be standing here in front of Fresno's first skyscraper and I'm so pleased to announce that it has a new owner." Swearengin said the new owner of the historic Helm Building, Sevack Khatchadourian, is helping lead the restoration of the mall as a thriving business district.
Khatchadourian is an LA based developer, who has also purchased another vintage skyscraper, the Security Bank Building across the street. Khatchadourian says he's buying these buildings, to get in on the ground floor of a Fulton Mall revival. "It's better to invest now, than when the prices go up then when the prices go up it will be too late to invest."
He's purchased the ten-story Helm Building, which was built in 1914, and the 16 story Security Bank Building, also known as the Pacific Southwest Building, built in 1924 because he expects the city is going to put vehicle traffic back on the Fulton Mall. The Fresno City Council is expected to consider plans to reopen the mall to traffic early next year.
The Fulton Mall built in 1964 was the nation's first downtown pedestrian mall. It floundered as a commercial destination when indoor shopping malls erupted in the 1970's. The Mayor and the chief of Fresno's downtown revitalization, Craig Scharton thinks bringing back the cars, will bring back business. "We really know that it works and that economic vitality comes back after traffic is restored."
But, the price tag of putting a street back in is in the millions of dollars. Money the city does not now have. Khatchadourian is investing millions in these two buildings in anticipation that cars will be cruising by. "Traffic is the most important thing, traffic is needed for downtown to be successful," he said.
Until then, he plans to maintain the current ground floor businesses, which include a taco shop and a store selling Mexican religious icons, and perhaps add a restaurant. He hopes to renovate and begin rent out the upper floors if demand for downtown office space returns.