The former Fresno County Juvenile Hall will be demolished Friday.
Written by David Castellon
What would you do if you just spent more than $1.5 million on a multi-acre parcel in an urban Fresno neighborhood?
That’s the question being asked by Carosella Properties, Inc., a development group out of Bakersfield that recently issued a sealed bid to buy the former Fresno County Juvenile Hall and some adjoining buildings off East Ventura Avenue between 9th and 10th streets.
Two weeks ago, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors planned to unseal the bids after putting the property up for sale — at a reduced price after getting no takers from the original $4 million-plus minimum bid it had sought — and Carosella Properties was the only bidder this time around.
Since the $1.511 million offer exceeded the $1.5 million revised minimum bid the supervisors set, they approved the sale.
While it was open, the facility picked up the nickname “hall of shame” after a news report exposed deplorable conditions inside, but the future of the nearly 12.6 acres of adjoining parcels, most of which comprised the Juvenile Hall that closed in 2006, is uncertain.
“At this point, we just do not know. You buy something like that and say, ‘Hm, that’s what we’ve got.’ We have no idea what’s going to go there,” Elliot Kirschenmann, an associate for Carosella Properties, said after the county accepted the bid.
He even asked for some suggestions on what do with the parcels.
“We’ve actually had a couple of conversations in our office the past couple of years,” about what to do with it, said Fresno City Councilman Luis Chavez, whose district includes the neighborhood where the old juvenile hall is located.
“I’m open to all possibilities, but I’m hoping for something that will really benefit the community,” he said, noting that he would like to see a mixed-use development involving new businesses and new housing, as part of the property extends for an entire block along Ventura Avenue.
Recent improvements to the bus system along that avenue will cut the waits for buses in half, which could bring more customers to the area for any new businesses that might locate there, Chavez added.
Whatever is done on the property probably will not involve the juvenile hall building, which was built in the 1950s and has deteriorated so badly that it likely will have to be torn down, at a cost that could nearly equal what was paid for it, according to a county report.
Smaller buildings currently used by the Fresno County Probation Department that would be vacated before the property changes hands are so old and in need of costly renovations that demolishing them seems the more economical option, the report continues.
Part of the reason the county is looking to sell the property is the average of $126,679 it is shelling out annually to keep the building and landscaping maintained so it doesn’t get overrun with weeds and fall apart, making it an outright nuisance and an eyesore.
“It’s ugly. Nobody’s done anything with it” in years, said Jose Mendoza of Fresno, who seemed glad the old buildings will be torn down, though part of the reason may be because he spent a few days there when he was 17 years old.
But Luis Suarez of Clovis, who visits family in the neighborhood frequently, said that if a new business development is built off Ventura, it should include a gym, as there isn’t one nearby in the neighborhood.
His sister, Rosa Lopez, was among a handful of people who suggested that a multiplex movie theater be built on the site.
“There’s a lot of young people around here. We need a theater, where maybe after work or after school we can go to relax. Something entertaining.”
While there are several theaters in Fresno, “we need to drive to them,” note Suarez, who, after some thought, suggested creating an open-air shopping center in the heart of Fresno’s “ghetto,” akin to River Park Shopping Center across town.
Some operators of small businesses in the area suggested constructing space for businesses along Ventura, and building homes deeper into the neighborhood, while some suggested using the 12-plus acres for larger business ventures, including an office park, a self-storage facility or a box store.
“Ideally, I would like a Target or some type of shopping,” that would draw shoppers who might visit other, nearby stores, said Vince Kojigian, co-owner of JK Furniture, across the street from the former Juvenile Hall.
While that seems like a long shot, Eddie Naranjo, owner of ProCheck Auto Care, noted that many foothill residents coming into the city travel along Ventura on the city’s south side, so a Walmart or other box store at 10th Street would be the first they come across.
Michael Cervantes, who lives with his grandmother in her East El Monte Way home, said low-income housing is a possible way to go, but then he suggested turning the site into a water park.
“It would bring a positive look for the area.”
Irma Hernandez, who lives across the street, noted that the neighborhood is quiet, so low-density housing might be a good option, as it wouldn’t draw large clusters of people as would a large retail complex.
County Supervisor Sal Quintero noted that a new senior housing development is being built about a block away from the site, and considering the growing demand for such housing, as baby boomers get older, he sees no reason more shouldn’t be built in at the former juvenile hall site.
In fact, he said he’s working to organize a meeting with representatives from his office, Chavez’ office and Carosella Properties to discuss what could be done with the property.
For his part, Kirsshanman said his company is planning to explore the Fresno market to try to figure out what should be built on the site.
“We’ll take time to catch our breath and see what we’ve got.”