Terance Frazier meets with Fresno State students like Tyler Puccio at the Student Union for an event where he told future entrepreneurs about what it took for him to get where he is today. Photo by Edward Smith
Written by Edward Smith
When Terance Frazier saw hundreds of people partying in a Downtown Fresno alley last week before the Fresno FC soccer match, it meant that his forecasts for downtown revitalization were coming true.
“In order to get the people here, you have to bring the excitement,” Frazier said.
The long-term work of business owners, entrepreneurs and developers to generate that excitement has been slowly building since downtown revitalization became a buzzword in decades past and may soon be realized.
For the real estate developer and principal of TFS Investments, working at his family’s business in Oakland to becoming a real estate owner and developer in Fresno took risk, research and a big vision.
By age 13, Frazier was already researching liens on properties for his family’s real estate business.
“I used to get on the microfiche and find out if there were any liens, any judgment. I knew how to do research and I knew how to follow trends. When my parents would loan people money, I would watch what they would do with the properties.”
Working his way from a child in a single-parent home in Oakland, being homeless for a time to becoming a real estate investor and developer in Fresno took risk, research and a big vision.
Though he didn’t know much about the Fresno market when he returned in the ‘90s after a professional baseball career ended, the Fresno State graduate knew how to find that out. Going through public records and trustee sales, he began to get a feel for the Central Valley.
Being a stay-at-home dad, Frazier would take his firstborn child with him to do his work. One day, with his 1-year-son in tow, he went to a property auction in Fresno where a woman was seeking bids for houses. Bids opened at $1, climbing to $50, then to $125 before it ended with Frazier buying his first property for $150.
““I called my dad and told him, ‘I think I just bought a house for $150,’” Frazier remembered.
He wasn’t sure if he should run away from the deal or hand over the cash to purchase, and he reached out to his dad who convinced him to check out the house.
With a $15,000 loan from his dad, Frazier was able to rehabilitate and sell the burned-out property. It sold for $45,000 and with the $20,000 he made from the sale, after paying back the debt and the labor, he was able to bankroll his new business into the future.
“At that time, in ’95, I was able to buy houses for $10,000 to $15,000 in West Fresno. I took that same 20 grand and went back to the auction and bought another property.”
The business was growing, but at this point, Frazier was still building one house at a time.
“I’m not very handy. The first two or three houses I spent there trying to coordinate — trying to paint, trying to save a dollar or two.”
As he was painting, the ladder sank into the ground and sent Frazier through the window.
His dad told him that he was trained to use his brain and not his hands. Frazier considered his dad’s advice and decided that focusing too much on trying to save small amounts of money here and there was limiting his vision.
“If you sit there constantly working with your hands, you miss the bigger picture,” Frazier said.
That bigger picture would turn what he had built into a machine, and that meant doing more than a couple of houses a month.
While his dad was making good money selling 10 to 20 properties in Oakland, Frazier wanted more. He began making waves and showing up on his competitors’ radar screens.
“At that time I was competing against three or four guys,” Frazier said. “They didn’t want to let me in. They had their own good old boy network.”
He was trying to make it in Fresno, but in his eyes, those with deep pockets were keeping him from breaking through.
Fresno was where he wanted to be and he needed someone to turn to. His dad, who took Frazier into his own family when he was homeless in Oakland, knew the business well and offered Frazier invaluable advice.
His dad told him that in order to be taken seriously, he had to be everywhere his competition was, and with help funding this approach, Frazier was ready to make moves.
“Every property that came, I would buy it. Every property until I think I had 20- or 30-something properties within less than a month.”
HIs competition finally recognized that Frazier was going to be a force in the Fresno real estate scene.
“It got me to the point where they would talk to me and were not trying to push me out of the business. They felt like I was a player. Once I became a player, they did their own thing and I did my own thing.”
By this time though, it was already the mid-2000s and a big change in the real estate market was coming.
Still researching every property he would invest in, he began to notice the number of foreclosures rising. He stacked the documents of the foreclosed properties up and saw Fresno had a growing problem.
While Frazier said not too many took his plan seriously, he was able to divest from a lot of his properties, much to the chagrin of his investors. His decisions kept TFS Investments afloat throughout the crash while so many others in real estate went under.
Having avoided defaulting on properties, Frazier felt he was in prime position to strike at a bottomed-out market. He used the money he had liquidated to pay his debts with the bank so that he could open up a credit line and move on properties throughout Fresno, but the banks were far more reticent than he was. And by the time, the market began warming up again, everybody wanted a piece of what he was trying to get back into.
“When I went outside and my landscaper told me ‘I bought three flips,’ I knew the business was over,” Frazier said.
The glut of buyers forced Frazier into another type of venture—commercial land. Frazier knew nothing about commercial property, but he did know how to find out. He had made friends with Cliff Tutelian and Ed Kashian, who gave him invaluable advice as to make it in Fresno.
When discussing downtown, Tutelian said that in order to make it in commercial real estate, developers need to be “quality-minded in addressing the needs and wants of the community.”
Today, Frazier says he owns 500,000 square feet of retail space in Fresno, Texas and Georgia.
As Fulton Street was dominating the conversation of downtown revitalization, Frazier was making moves on H Street, where he could be away from the attention.
He saw industrial development as the cornerstone for his vision, where he could bring in housing, retail and brewpubs to the area surrounding Grizzlies’ Stadium all at the same. He even opened the Broadway Event Center across the street from the stadium, where he thought Fresno nightlife was lacking.
“There’s no reason for me to go jump in the problem. So I do it on my own,” Frazier said. “That’s why I bought the entire block. They’re going to fight until they figure it out. I do my own stuff, I build it—I put my own housing there, I put my own retail there, I control my own market. I bring my own synergy there.”
If a developer were to wrap the stadium in housing, that could give a unique selling point for people wanting to move downtown. But, Frazier thinks access to housing is important and currently, he’s trying to build his 50,000 square foot condominium complex at Fulton and Inyo with 80 percent of the units at market value and 20 percent affordable so that the city doesn’t have to kick people out as new residents move in.
“I’ve never done a project that was not affordable,” Frazier said. “I’m trying to find ways because I know we have an [affordability] issue here. The way we’re going as a city, it’s going to be a gentrification issue.”
His projects would cater to the population that he feels too many have overlooked—the dual-income-no-kids with expendable income. In the future, when those couples are ready to buy, his condos would be in a position to sell.
The first key, however, is to get them downtown, and the alley party put on by the Fresno Football Club for the opening game that attracted co-hosts like Tioga Sequoia and Kocky’s is a prime example of the synergy it takes to do that.
“This was the first time I saw that we were able to keep the people in downtown until one o’clock in the morning, almost two,” he said. And, for Frazier, that’s the first step to downtown revitalization.