Fresno City Council member Luis Chavez presented on Wednesday to the Fresno Chamber of Commerce his proposal to incentivize new business development along the Ventura/Kings Canyon Corridor. The Chamber board members unanimously voted to back his plan, which Chavez expected to present next week to the City Council. Photo by David Castellon

published on March 16, 2018 - 5:09 PM
Written by David Castellon

A few years ago, when Fresno was in the throes of the Great Recession, the Ventura/Kings County Corridor was on the verge of becoming a blighted area.

Back then, the more than four-mile stretch along Ventra Avenue and Kings Canyon Road between First Street and Clovis Avenue had about a 30 percent vacancy rate among its various businesses.

Since then, the area has recovered considerably, bringing its vacancy rate down to 11-13 percent, and “I’d like to bring that even lower, to 4 or 5 [percent], and that’s really the motive to bring this forward and incentivize that corridor,” Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez told members of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Council during the group’s meeting on Wednesday.

He was there to present a proposal for his plan to increase startups of new businesses along the corridor, which sits in his district.

Before he presents it next week to his fellow council members, Chavez said he wanted to run his proposal by the Chamber’s leaders to get their comments and suggestions on how to improve it.

“Essentially, what I’m trying to come up with is a way of creating this super-incentivized zone up that Ventura/Kings Canyon Corridor” on top of other incentives the city already offers new businesses, he said.

Under Chavez’ plan, new businesses along the Ventura/Kings County Corridor would get partially reimbursed from the city’s share of local sales and use taxes they pay, along with cost of their city business licenses and the city’s portion of the added property taxes on those businesses based on the difference between the original assessed value of each building and the new value after improvements have been made.

Those benefits would be in effect over 10 years and apply not only to existing buildings but also to new construction and expansions along the corridor.

“All of that would be reimbursed with the intent of creating jobs in specific geographical zones,” said Chavez, though the proposal would cover only the Ventura/Kings Canyon Corridor.

He said based on what city staff told him, business license fees for the types of businesses there would average $1,500 – $2,000 a year.

There is a catch. In order to receive the benefits, each participating business would have to generate at least three full-time jobs — or the hourly equivalents — which could include the owners, Chavez said.

And the reimbursements would increase as more employees are hired, though the councilman said a formula for calculating those amounts hadn’t yet been developed.

“My favorite words are jobs, jobs, jobs, and that is what my constituents need in that area,” Chavez told the Chamber board.

The corridor has some big box stores, including a Ross Dress For Less, but most are light retail, auto repair, restaurants, appliance stores and other small businesses.

Among the more notable parcels along the route are the long-vacant University Medical Center and the former Fresno County Juvenile Hall, while Chavez said the CalWORKS office on East Kings Canyon, east of South Chance Avenue, is expected to be vacated by the California Department of Social Services within a year.

He said the Fresno Unified School District is in discussions to possibly purchase the former juvenile hall, tear down most or all of the buildings there and make the suite a new school.

While there are no plans he knows of for the other two sites, Chavez said that if the City Council approves his proposal, that may incentivize action to finally redevelop them.

Another condition to take part in the program would be that businesses would have to open or submit permit applications for construction or renovations within 18 months after the incentive plan takes effect, which Chavez said he added to induce action right away to start new businesses on the corridor.

While existing businesses in Fresno couldn’t relocate to the Ventura/Kings Canyon Corridor to take advantage of the incentives, as the intent isn’t to pilfer businesses from other parts of the city, they can start additional locations there and get the incentives, the councilman said.

The Chamber members offered no criticism or suggestions on his plan, and voted unanimously to put their support behind it.

During the discussion, Chavez said other City Council members may want to emulate similar programs to jumpstart new businesses in sections of their districts.

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