Developer Reza Assemi looks out of an upper-floor window of his Sun Stereo Warehouse redevelopment project in Downtown Fresno, in what is popularly known as the Brewery District. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
Work to revitalize one of Fulton Street’s historic buildings is all but complete as two familiar names in development are converting the space to mixed use.
Sun Stereo Warehouse in Downtown Fresno, across from Tioga Sequoia Brewing Co., has seen a number of different uses since its construction in 1913. From an auto shop to carpet store, the building has been vacant for well over 20 years, said developer Reza Assemi. Now Assemi, along with his partner on the project, Jamin Brazil of tech company HubUX, are putting it back to use with hopes for a cannabis dispensary on the bottom with creative workspace on top.
Two floors separate Sun Stereo Warehouse’s bottom retail from the office space above.
Assemi and Brazil have a lease with a cannabis dispensary to move into the bottom floor of the building, occupying the entire space. But that lease is dependent on the company getting approval from the City of Fresno.
Because retailers are still waiting on the city to award licenses, Assemi said he’s been in a holding pattern.
Eight commercial spaces have been framed in, but if the cannabis company takes the spot, Assemi said they would have to modify it to meet the company’s needs. He doesn’t want to sheetrock and finish the spaces only to tear them out if the cannabis company moves in.
Assemi and Brazil used Paul Halajian Architects in Fresno to modify the space.
According to language of the measure Fresno voters approved in 2018, two permits would be approved in each council district in the first year. By the second year, one additional permit could be approved, sending the total to three per district. Because the process has been delayed a year, Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias said three could be approved right away.
Beginning June 8, interviews will begin to be held for Social Equity grants for cannabis licenses. Scores for retail applicants will begin in August and the first conditional use permits should be granted in November.
In Arias’ district, he said he would like to see at least one cannabis company in the Brewery District, saying it adds to the environment.
“That’s a strong place for applicants,” Arias said. “It would be aligned and do well with the Brewery District and the housing and nightlife that’s developing.”
If the cannabis application falls through, Assemi said the spaces on the bottom would suit a variety of retailers — from clothiers to light food or even a bar.
“Interest has been across the board,” Assemi said.
The upstairs has more than 20 spaces with square footage ranging from 1,000 to less than 100.
A large common space with a full-service kitchen allows employees to gather in a communal setting.
Assemi worked to keep the original feel of the building, he said. With the original brickwork and exposed ceilings, he felt the architecture would be conducive to creative companies that don’t need a lot of space, such as graphic designers, wedding planners or fashion designers.
“I keep thinking of different industries,” Assemi said. “We have production houses in Fresno and things like that and film companies, but where are the people who do hair and makeup or who need a green screen room? This could be really cool if you had some different industries that need each other.”
Sun Stereo Warehouse could not be the original name of the building, said Kevin Enns-Rempel, administrator of the website historicfresno.org, which tracks historic buildings in Fresno on the local and national registers. Enns-Rempel also served on the Historic Preservation Committee for 13 years.
The building dates back to 1918 and the name Sun Stereo Warehouse goes back to the building’s usage as an automotive shop in the 1960s.
The building-style is a classic commercial building from the 1920s, said Enns-Rempel, with what would have probably been retail on the bottom and perhaps housing on top.
What makes Sun Stereo stand out is that the original facade was maintained. Many of the buildings on Fulton Street date back to that time, said Enns-Rempel, but many of the facades were plastered over.
“It’s a great example of what was once a very common building type in Fresno and the fact that this one hasn’t been covered over in a new facade means we can see what buildings looked like back then,” Enns-Rempel said.
Many of those buildings were designed to be adaptable for multiple uses, Enns-Rempel said. “The fact that it’s coming back to life is great news,” he said.
But keeping the interior of the building true was part of what Assemi wanted.
When revitalizing the building, Assemi decided to keep a brick column he liked rather than taking it out, calling it “kind of fun.” He left one annex of the building where the lift for the cars used to be a little unpolished to get a better sense of the building’s previous uses.
He added a turn to the staircase leading to the second floor, giving a more open feel to the common area and views out of the second story out to the Brewery District.
Assemi said that demand for office space has begun warming up after people have been at home. That will probably continue, but he says the demand for small spaces could rise, and with it are a variety of needs for different professional uses. Much as in the same way Downtown Fresno has grown in the past few years, Assemi says, you don’t know how deep the demand goes until the product is out.
“I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I think the building could go in some pretty interesting ways,” Assemi said.