Saturday, February 22, 2014

Important Fulton Mall Dates Coming Up

Time is running out to help preserve the Fulton Mall.

Monday is the deadline to send comments to Caltrans for their report on the Fulton Mall project. 

You can send Caltrans comments until Feb 24 to Kirsten Helton, Department of Transportation, 855 M Street, Suite 200, Fresno, CA 93721.

More important is February 27, when the council votes.

Here is the item from the meeting agenda (large PDF) 
While speaking in person is important, make sure to also contact to council members directly by email.When a public comment at a meeting drags on for hours, as it will, people stop listening. Sending an email means more attention.

So be brief, and use good point!

Remember to target your comments to the council members. For example, it's probable that Brand and Brandau don't care at all about park space, art, or history. So there's no reason to send them a letter addressing those subjects. Instead, focus on the financial risk of the project to the city. 

Brand has attempted to portray himself as "Mr. Money Guy" while Brandau governs as "Mr. Tea Party." That means pointing out that the fed grant won't cover all the costs, especially the overruns. This is even more true in an older area, where there are likely old pipes, wires, and gas lines under the mall that aren't on any map. Whenever an old street gets dug up, the crews ALWAYS encounter these problems, resulting in lengthy delays. That means the city is on the hook for cash. 

Or point out how flimsy the EIR and economic report are. A bad EIR means the city can and will be dragged through the court system. Aside from legal fees, lengthy delays mean forfeiting the fed grant. 

For example,
the EIR claims that there will be no traffic increase, and thus, no mitigation required.

The circular logic is astounding:

Project will create high economic impact -> more shoppers, more workers, more people 

More people = more cars right?

Nope, according to the EIR, because any economic impact is speculative, then there will be no additional traffic.

So they're saying approve the project for its economic impact, which is guaranteed.....but no mitigation is needed because economic impact is not guaranteed.

So ask your council member who is right. The EIR that says there will be no economic boost, or the project backers that say there will be? 

The EIR response to comments also stated that increase in vehicle/pedestrian injuries is speculative, and doesn't have to be addressed - but the cost-benefit analysis notes a significant increase in collisions. Makes sense right? When you turn a ped-only street into a 30mph road, you create more conflict.

Oh, and theres the bit about the EIR claiming the mall doesn't act as a park, so no open space mitigation is needed. 

Playgrounds, benches, gazebos, trees, bikes, peds, fountains, art.....nope not a park? 

You can also talk to them about how there's no real proof the project will revitalize anything at all. $20 million is quite the gamble, and if it doesn't work, Fresno has nothing to show for it. While the mall didn't revitalize downtown when built, at least an attractive space was created, which has been well used for events and such.

You can also talk about a potential civil rights lawsuit. Right now, most of the business on the mall is minority-operated and visited. If the project puts them all out of business, that's a serious issue. 

Another angle is the claim that changing the mall into a road will cause the office space to be suddenly popular. But that assumes the only barrier to use is the road.

LA has many wonderful historical buildings on very busy streets....that are vacant from floor 2 up. Why? Most old buildings have obsolete layouts for modern needs. Adding a few street parking spaces doesn't change the design of the interior. 

The report states that:

"As the downtown area has the second lowest office vacancy rate in the Fresno region, it seems that the project study area’s high vacancy rate is not attributable to its location and is due to other conditions"

I agree. Such as the fact that the oldest buildings are there, and will require millions in internal improvements to be attractive. 

 Or just bitch about how you don't want your tax money being spent for anything. 

The point is, make sure your voice is heard. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Broadway Streetscape Project Photo Update

I've a lot of large posts I want to put together....however these photos I took a couple of weeks ago are getting stale, so I need to finish posting them!

Here's quick look at the Broadway streetscape project. I took some photos a few weeks earlier, and construction has moved slowly. Mind you, the entire project has moved slowly. Here's the times I've written about it, excluding the above link:

September 2011: Project announced
September 2011: Full details   - Construction scheduled for 2012 (lols)
July 2013: Comparison with LA Broadway streetscape project

And here is what the construction looked like in January of this year:

Windshield perspective, driving south from Divisadero
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Not much going on at this GV Urban project, where we parked to take pictures
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Did a walk around the block. Nothing much of note, except this fun sign
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Returning to Broadway
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Supposedly, this project is to help pedestrians, but there were ZERO ped accommodations for construction. "Sidewalk closed" ..... on all four corners at some intersections.

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Looking north

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Looking south. I was told streets generate commerce and business? And yet one can stand here all day...

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As I said, no temporary accommodation for peds. If you're in a wheelchair, you're screwed....and so if Fresno if they get sued.

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 We take a brief detour....this alley needs streetscape improvements

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High speed rail construction is still not underway

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And a frequent topic of conversation on this blog...

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Looking back at Broadway

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Walking north

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I do not believe that this is open weeknights.

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I'm very disappointed with the ramp choice. Look how narrow the walkways are, just the bare minimum. Forget about walking next to someone.

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And as I've mentioned before, going with pull-in parking was a huge mistake

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It doesn't appear that any accommodations for the bus stops are being included? 

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And back to the GV Urban lot

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Hope you all enjoyed the pictures. This project should wrap up soon, and provide plenty of free parking for those using the Rainbow Ballroom.

Bonus: I was asked about the First 5 Fresno construction by the library. Taken the same day.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Construction on Droge building progressing slowly

In 2012, the city, via the housing authority, moved forward on the process to tear down the old Droge building and erect a modern four story apartment building. A neighboring building (one which a couple of my family members worked in for many years) was also demolished. This is an interesting building as it's going up with less parking spaces than is "normal." And yes, people complained that would cause issues, even though a large garage sits across the street, which is always 99% empty at night.

As an aside: If you're going to an event at Saroyan or Selland, they charge $8 (or $6?) for parking at the convention center garage. The spiral garage pictured is free after 6pm and all weekends, and is only two blocks away. They do however charge for stadium events (and I'd assume you could park at the convention center garage for free). This is how I know the garage is 99% empty at night.

Last summer, I stopped by the site shortly after the demolition.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the site again to see the progress.

The good news: They are actually building something, so the Droge wasn't torn down for a failed attempt. The cynic in my wondered if that would be the case.
The bad news: Construction is progressing slowly.

Have a look:

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This will soon be hidden

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I'm not an architect, but this is an odd space.

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Hopefully there's more building to look at in a couple of months. Depending on how cheaply this is built, it might open before the end of the year.

Bonus: This looks new, and very attractive.
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Is Walmart changing the way they plan their new stores?

There was a surprising announcement in the Bee today: A new Walmart store in Fresno.

Walmart will open a supercenter in the former Mervyn's that has sat empty for five years at Blackstone and Ashlan avenues in central Fresno.

The retail giant plans to open the store -- which will include clothing, electronics, a full grocery department, but no auto center -- this summer. At 107,000 square feet, the store is slightly smaller than a typical Walmart Supercenter, but larger than the average Walmart store.

Read more here:

Read more here:
It wasn't so much a surprise that we're getting yet another Wamart (Fresno sure does love them), but the location was very unexpected; it's the last place I would have thought a Walmart would open, because it goes counter to what the company is so well known for.

Does this represent a shift in the way the company does business? 

I'm no fan of Walmart, and one of the major reasons is their real-estate policy. The company is known for doing the following things when expanding:

  • Build a brand new store from scratch
  • Build on the cheapest land - in a rural area a few miles out of town or a developing suburb
  • Always have the biggest possible parking lot in front
  • If applicable, abandon a nearby, smaller store. 

These policies lead to more sprawl, more driving, and giant empty abandoned stores that no one will ever use when Walmart changes location.

Most Valley stores follow the format.

The new Kerman store, for example, hits every point in the list but the last one. It's so new it's not on the Google imagery yet

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The newest Visalia supercenter is a similar deal, at the very edge of town, a couple blocks from farmland.

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No need to go on; everyone knows the Walmart model.

However in the case of their new store announcement, they're doing something different. In fact, they're not hitting a single bullet point.

  • Build a brand new store from scratch

Nope. They're moving into an abandoned Mervyn's, a store I assumed would sit empty for the next decade.

I took this picture last month, noting work being done in the abandoned store
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Moving into an existing store, especially one that was not designed as a supercenter, is very out of character for the chain. Yes, last year they announced that their West Shaw store would be moving across the street to an abandoned Super Kmart, but that move was to a larger box originally built to mimic the Walmart experience.

Mervyn's? Not so much your standard Walmart Supercenter.

  • Build on the cheapest land - in a rural area a few miles out of town or a developing suburb
Quite the opposite. The new store is going onto Blackstone, what has been the retail backbone of Fresno for decades. Sure, it's not exactly the River Park neighborhood (with River Park rents), but every lot was built on many years ago. Manchester Mall is seen at the bottom.

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  • Always have the biggest possible parking lot in front

Part of the deal with reusing an existing box in a part of town developed a few decades ago is that the parking lot doesn't quite meet modern Walmart standards. Yes, there's parking out front: but not much. Most is on the side.

There are about 80 spots in front, the bulk are on the side, and oddly enough, some in a far off corner no one would ever go to.

In this image, Blackstone is at the bottom, so you're looking at the front. The majority of parking is on the top left, with the most random parking on the top right. Aside from RV's, who would ever go back there?

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That means most of the parking will be on the side of the store. It will be interesting to see how Walmart lays out their entrances. They almost always have just two entrances up front, while Mervyn's was built with 5. Which ones will they keep?

I'd even assume these ten spots are being removed, or else traffic would back up onto Blackstone.

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The design isn't unprecedented in Fresno: The Target on Shields and First is also a clear retrofit of an older store. The parking lot feels like the 1950's, and it's certainly unlike any other Target in the region.

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But again, Walmart isn't one to deal with odd layouts: they just build new.

One advantage to the shopper? The front is actually close to the sidewalk!

Here are the distances from the front door to the closest street sidewalk at the existing stores, in feet:

North Fresno (Herndon): 540 (Herndon), 510 (Ingram)
New Clovis Herndon: 575
Kings Canyon: 650
West Shaw current: 650 feet (Shaw) 740 (Brawley)
West Shaw Future (old Kmart) : 740 (Shaw) 350 (Brawley)
Clovis Shaw: 800

The new location:

Only 155 feet from Blackstone!

And finally:

  • If applicable, abandon a nearby, smaller store.
The closest store, the Clovis Shaw location will presumably stay open, as it was promised to the city as part of the approval process for the new Herndon location.

Here's the location map.
1-5 are existing, star is this one, a and b are "Walmart neighborhood markets," which only sell grocery items.

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I wonder if this is the last Walmart we'll be seeing any time soon? Only the abandoned Kmart by Roeding Park seems appropriate for a final location, in terms of distance from other stores.

Now, if you're thinking "this isn't completely unprecedented," you're right. Walmart has been moving into urban areas and trying different concepts. They're opening five stores in DC, with hidden parking, and even an entrance by the sidewalk, or a store on the second floor. However, as far as I know, all those are custom built locations, not retrofits.

And Fresno isn't exactly DC. There's obviously no shortage of land, more people drive, and there's less political problems to deal with. Indeed, the local politicians love Walmart.

"I think this is exactly what this part of the city needs," said Fresno Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes the location.

Read more here:
Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the city welcomes an investment on its major north/south street.
"Projects like these, coupled with the city's vision for improving Blackstone Avenue with public infrastructure, will help give new life to this critical commercial corridor," she said in a news release.

Read more here:

An article from 2011 suggests that Walmart has moved into existing locations before: but not by choice.

Confirmation came this week that Walmart would take over the former Gottschalks site at Bayshore Mall. The retailer has a contentious history in Humboldt County, dating back to a 1999 ballot measure, and news of its upcoming opening has renewed the debate -- as evidenced by the strident feedback on news articles and other online forums.
In 1999, Eureka voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure J, which would have rezoned the Balloon Track property to allow Walmart to build on the waterfront site. Rumors about a new move by Walmart began surfacing in July when building plans were submitted for a “mystery store” at the Bayshore Mall. 

The town stopped Walmart from building new, but the town had no say in Walmart occupying an existing location.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened on Shaw and Fowler also went into an existing location (abandoned Albertson's), but that's 100% groceries, and is a very different retail concept than a supercenter.

Can anyone think of any other Walmart that breaks all their "rules", like this one is doing?

As an aside, anyone who shops at the Petco next door should be thrilled. As this image shows, the place is always a ghost town, and I'm surprised is still in business, especially with two new locations in the north part of town. The Walmart will surely help them attract customers, and stick around.

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