published on May 12, 2017 - 9:59 AM
Written by Bridget Butler-Sullivan

Hoping to once again make the Fulton District a core destination of the city, the Downtown Fresno Partnership has launched multiple new and promising projects to revitalize the area. Its newest venture: The Fulton Storefront Renovation Program.

“In the short term, the goal of this development is to have a visual impact on Fulton Street while it’s opening back up to traffic,” said Downtown Fresno Foundation Executive Director Jenna Chilingerian. “The long term goal is to have more investment in the area and to revitalize, support, and promote this commercial district.”

The Renovation Program is aimed to help existing small businesses in the area, and is open to any of the 80 business and property owners in the Fulton block between H Street and Van Ness Avenues, from Inyo to Tuolumne streets.

“What we really want is to see these family businesses thrive. When you think of a revitalized downtown, at its core are small businesses,” said Craig Scharton, the Fulton District manager for the Downtown Fresno Partnership.

The program offers a total grant of $10,000, which would be divided amongst approximately four businesses at $2,500 each.

The greatest contribution comes from Next Generation Philanthropy, which donated $7,500 to the program. A remaining $2,500 comes from the Downtown Fresno Partnership, said President and CEO Aaron Blair.  

It is a very selective grant, and it is likely that the business and property owners that make the largest investment will have their applications selected. Those awarded the grant will be given a 1:1 match in credit of the $2,500.

Studies have show that storefront renovation programs in downtown districts recoup their investments back within three years due to increased business. When asked if he believes this turn around will happen as quickly in Fresno as it did other downtowns, Craig Scharton responded, “Of course.”

“If you look around the country at cities that we now think of as accessible, they all used to have problems,” said Scharton, using examples such as the drastic changes in San Diego’s Gaslight District and even Manhattan to make the point that every major area must go through its share of renovation.  

Fresno’s Downtown Foundation and Partnership predict the project will be completed midsummer, before the Fulton Mall reopens in August. As Scharton puts it, “It’s really important that these things happen together. Fulton will be the main entertainment, dining, retail district, and now that the city, the state, the county, and the federal government have all chipped in on infrastructure, we want to see the private sector investment follow.”

To both promote and guide applicants through the grant and application process, the partnership held an information session last month. There were a total of 15 business and property owner attendees, an amount regarded with much positivity from Scharton. “Ten is actually pretty high given that there’s a fairly small pot of money.”

“It’s a good sign showing that people are interested in getting going with their construction. Some business and property owners haven’t thought about how they can improve the value of their property. It’s a little bit of a new concept for them, so they were very enthusiastic once they understood where we were going.”

Referencing the culmination of projects such as the new Downtown Development Code, The Downtown Fresno Partnership, and the plan to open Fulton Street, Scharton said, “This has been a long run in the making, and the exciting thing is that within a few months, the whole community can start to see the benefits from all this work and all these people.”

Although the project is only able to help restoration of three to five business, more than anything, it is working towards the trend of overall improvement in Fresno’s Downtown. In the words of Chilingerian, “2018 is looking to be a pretty good year for the Fulton District.”

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