Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin renewed her call to open the Fulton Mall to automobile traffic at today’s annual State of Downtown Breakfast.
Swearengin told the crowd of business leaders and downtown boosters that her number one job for the next four years is to rally support for her downtown plan, which includes the first major changes to Fresno’s former main street in the last five decades.
“My job is to make sure that Fresno changes its mind about itself and it starts here in downtown. It starts with the idea that this is it and this time we’re getting all the way across the finish line.”
Swearengin was referring to previous efforts to revitalize the area, including a plan from the mid 1990’s that also called for the re-introduction of traffic to Fulton Street. Those plans all failed to materialize.
The event’s keynote speaker, Denver revitalization expert Henry Beer, told the crowd that other cities that have removed their downtown pedestrian malls saw an increase in economic activity.
The mayor also used the occasion to announce the launch of a new group which she hopes will rally support for her downtown agenda – Fresno Citizens For a Strong Economy. The group aims to have facilitators hold up to 100 meetings with citizen groups over the next year, and is asking residents to take an online pledge to “believe in downtown Fresno.”
“You must join us in believing in your downtown. Because when you tell me you are believing in your downtown you are telling me that you are believing in your city,” said Swearengin. "It is not possible to believe in Fresno and not believe in its downtown."
Swearengin said that may prove difficult with a public that has grown cynical after decades of talk about a downtown renaissance.
The city is currently conducting a state mandated environmental study of possible changes to the Fulton Mall. Swearengin did not specify how the cash strapped city would pay for the changes she proposes. The city has previously stated that such a plan would cost around $12 million.