Fulton Mall / It's looking bleak
Happy 50 year anniversary to the Fulton Mall....on Wednesday, despite impassioned testimony by dozens of citizens to the contrary, the City of Fresno Planning Commission voted 6-0 to rip the heart and soul out of Downtown Fresno. The commission advised the City Council to accept an environmental impact report and recommended turning the historic Fulton Mall back into a street, versus the current open space/pedestrian mall designation. At the meeting, City staff was asked why the mall could not be restored. The response was that there are only grants to hand the mall back to cars, not for restoration This lie is a testament to the kind of sham process the City of Fresno is running. The City has received a $16 million TIGER grant from the Federal Department of Transportation to add cars back into the mall. That grant could have easily been written to support pedestrian improvements to the mall. There are a number of pedestrian oriented grants that were approved in the same grant cycle the Fulton Mall project was part of. In fact, if you go down the list of awarded projects and see that most projects involve moving away from auto-dependency in favor of transit, bicycling and pedestrian enhancements. In prior funding cycles, there was a river walk project and a host of other non-motorized transportation projects. Fresno is taking a step back to decades-old thinking that the car is the answer.
Pre-1964 Fulton St.
The Planning Commission, also recommended Option 1 (above), the most destructive of the proposals. This plan puts cars and parking where art, fountains and public space now exist. 17 of the 20 existing site-specific sculptures would be relocated. Incidentally, the planning commissioners are political appointees, not actual planners. Of the six, none seem to have a background in architecture, planning or economic development. I also find it interesting that the TIGER grant only accounts for $16 million of the estimated $20 million total project (which actually seems extremely low to reconstruct 11 city blocks and move the public art). The City can come up with $4 million dollars for this, but they've been crying poor when it comes to minor mall maintenance?
Bye, bye George Tsutakawa fountain and sculpture. This will be ripped out if the City of Fresno Option 1 goes through. How much do you want to bet when the asphalt starts to pour, the money for the project will run out before all the art gets put back in?
Say good-bye to the Stan Bitters fountains too.
This book by Victor Gruen came out in 1964, just as his plan to redevelop Fulton St. into the Fulton Mall was coming to life. The title says it all. Prior to the Fulton Mall, the downtown area was going through tough times, just like today. The choice then was a bold move forward. I still don't understand how they think introducing cars will solve the problem when vacancies are prevalent on all the adjacent streets. Have these folks ever been to LA to see The Grove, The Americana or The 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica? LA is just the tip of the iceberg. Cities are pouring billions of dollars into improving streetscapes for pedestrians. New York has an extensive program that can be seen here. Most of the projects used to substantiate claims of future prosperity by allowing cars back into the mall date back to the 80s, 90s or early 2000's--not exactly cutting-edge economic thinking.
This vision of the Fulton mall by Victor Gruen and Garret Eckbo could still be realized, though it's looking bleak.
Are there any good land use attorneys out there looking to sue a City? Wrecking a 50 year-old landmark and tearing out major art that was entrusted to the City should be good for starters. I'm sure there are some issues related to environmental concerns as well. Building more roads sure doesn't seem like a good way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The Fresno City Council is set to make the final decision on the Fulton Mall during its February 27th meeting, so act fast.
Please visit Save the Fulton Mall for more information.