Fresno looks at big changes for the Fulton Mall

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno city leaders are committing new energy to an old idea. They believe the downtown Fulton Mall should be re-opened to traffic.

Critics have pointed at historical and cost considerations in the past. But the idea of re-opening Fulton Street to downtown traffic is drawing more support among local leaders.

Foot traffic on the Fulton Mall isn't steady enough to sustain shops and businesses willing to take a chance on Downtown Fresno.

During Tuesday's state of downtown breakfast, pedestrian mall expert Henry Beer told local leaders about the Fulton Mall's major drawback.

Beer said, "This place needs to be made visible and accessible."

The idea certainly is not a new one. But the vision of opening up Fulton Street to vehicle traffic would put people closer to eateries and shops, places most folks have never visited. Henry Beer was invited to Fresno because he helped revitalize downtown Boulder, Colorado.

"Allowing people to have the kind of access they need where there's not just the perception of convenience, there's the reality of convenience," Beer said. "It's going to move the needle."

The Fulton Mall made its grand debut in 1964 but the business model is dated. It is one of the few pedestrian malls left in the U.S.

Craig Scharton added, "Of the cities that put a street back 90-percent of them revitalized within the first four years so we have tons of research showing the pedestrian malls don't work and then when you remove them they spring back to life."

The challenge has always been in finding reasons to come. The Downtown Fresno Partnership says 30-percent of the people who skated on the Fulton Mall ice rink during the holidays had either never been downtown or hadn't been there in five years. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the message from property owners is clear.

"We believe in this space, we believe in this city," Swearengin said. "We're going to put our money on the table and prove it."

The mayor would like to keep the mall art pieces and fountains in place.

The Fresno City Council will consider re-opening the Fulton Mall to traffic but not until the end of the year. The public will also get the chance to weigh in before the council vote.

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