Fresno, CA shifts from decades of dumb sprawl to smart downtown revitalization

Fresno, California is the seat of Fresno County. As of 2016, the city’s population was 520,000, making it the fifth-largest city in California, the largest inland city in California and the 34th-largest in the nation. It’s roughly 220 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 185 miles south of San Francisco. The name Fresno means “ash tree” in Spanish, and an ash leaf is featured on the city’s flag.

Decades of mindless, badly-planned sprawl severely degraded quality of life. Until recently, nobody wanted to be there, says William Dyck, a local real estate developer. Vacancy rates were high, and many buildings were boarded up.

Those days are beginning to fade. Now, Dyck explained, “people are calling me, saying ‘hey, what do you have available?’ The landscape has dramatically changed.

High-speed rail is only one of the public sector initiatives that has helped propel what some believe will be a renaissance in downtown Fresno, a transformation that involves not just businesses filling up new office space, but also plans for substantial new housing.

Outgoing mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican first elected in 2008, made downtown revitalization in Fresno a hallmark issue during her time in office.

Earlier this year, the city enacted a sweeping overhaul of the municipal code that guides real estate development in downtown. It was a push to make projects there easier to do and more aligned with city priorities. At the same time, Fresno has offered financial incentives, such as fee waivers, to build in the area.

Photo of downtown Fresno (2013) by JMora24 via Wikipedia.

See full article by Bill Lucia in Route Fifty.

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