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Hey, downtown? You look like a billion bucks!
As a fun little game, let's picture $1 billion stashed around downtown Fresno. Not stacked up in little piles of one-dollar bills (though that would make for an awesome treasure hunt), but invested in brick-and-mortor developments throughout city's central core.
So, what's that look like to you?
Hopefully something like the “Billion Dollar Tour,” which kicks off at 9 a.m., Sept. 27, down at the Chuck (that's what we're calling Chukchansi Park until it sticks). Hosted by the Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County, the tour is a bus-guided look at downtown, from the Cultural Arts District, to Sports Walk and, of course, the Fulton Mall.
Local celebrities will serve as tour guides, and the whole thing should take about a half-hour, but you can get off along the way to wander around by yourself (don't worry, there will be maps so you won't get lost). We suggest you spend the whole day, because there is a whole lot to see.
The tour, in its second year, has an open-house quality.
The Hobbs Parson building, which was recently renovated as the Fresno Fire Department headquarters, will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony and have historic Pop Laval photos on display for visitors. The photos will eventually be part of a full-on museum the department hopes to open.
The old Security Bank Building will also be open. Worth checking out is George Garcia's Salon at The Lofts (on the second floor). You can also get another look at the terrific views from the top-story lofts.
There will also be stops around the Holiday Inn's new Sky Room, Broadway Studios, the Warnor's Theatre and the Civic Center Square (what they're calling the area at M and Kern streets), which includes the Galleria.
Yes, Starbucks will be open, we're told. But for the money, try Cafe Corazon on the Fulton Mall instead.
Back at the stadium, the concourse will be full-up with information on ongoing projects, the stuff that has yet to be realized. That's so people can get an idea of where this is all heading, says Catherine Curry, director of marketing for the EDC.
“People will come to learn, ‘OK, what's next.' ”
So, the tour is mostly about education. So many people haven't been downtown in 10 years or more, they have no idea the kind of energy, and money, that's flowing through the area, she says. An expected $600,000 will be spent in the next 18 months, according to the Economic Development Department.
And even those who work in the area might be missing the entire picture, she says.
It looks like this: A re-vamped Warnor's Center for the Performing Arts, which has spent close to $2 million in the last five or six years.
That's been mostly upkeep, says Ann Vermel, the center's executive director. The place is functional, yes, but it has that I've-seen-better-days feel.
That's changing. Over the next few years, the building will become a first-rate community venue with three options to meet multiple needs. Anchored by the Warnor's Theatre, SoHos will become a stylized cabaret (renamed Frank's Place), and the Star Palace will get a new presidium stage and start reaching out to local theater groups.
But Vermel already sees momentum building around her in the Cultural Arts District. In November, the Fresno Met will host a 55-hour party to celebrate its re-opening (who wants to join us at 5 a.m.?). K-Jewel and KYNO just put up their call letters across the street from her office, she says. Down at Divisadero Street, work is under way on Reza Assemi's Fulton Plaza project.
Assemi has seen momentum himself — 10 plus years of it, and not as much as he'd have liked. Several of his projects (the Pearl Building, Vagabond and H St. Lofts) will be featured on the tour. He says private-money investments in projects like Hotel Fresno and the Hotel Virginia (also on the tour) are good signs, but there still needs to be more buy-in from the city, and the community.
So, anything that brings public awareness is good, he says. Last year, 900 people took part in the tour.
“The more exposure we get, the more momentum we'll have.”
And that should keep the people — and money— rolling in.
Or at least passing through.
The Billion Dollar Tour
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Get on the bus and see what $1 billion worth of revitalized Fresno looks like.
Event begins at Chukchansi Park.
Free parking in the stadium lot on H Street.