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As Mariposa Plaza set for makeover, Fresno mayor reveals more plans for downtown

Buildings in downtown Fresno.
Larry Valenzuela
CalMatters / CatchLight Local
Downtown Fresno on June 17, 2022.

Once the central public square of downtown Fresno, Mariposa Plaza is finally getting a long-awaited makeover. City leaders broke ground Thursday afternoon on an over $4 million project to awaken the plaza on Fulton and Mariposa Streets, just a block from the future high-speed-rail station, as the premiere public space for downtown residents and visitors.

Over the next five months, the plaza - one of the busiest points downtown - will be getting new trees, performance stages, shade structures, and rainwater capture for irrigation. Electrical capacity will be added to accommodate a downtown ice rink, once again - hopefully in time for the holidays, Councilmember Miguel Arias said.

During the news conference, Mayor Jerry Dyer revealed progress on some of the first investments from California's $50 million down payment on a $300 million promise for downtown revitalization: plans to replace all water and sewer infrastructure in downtown Fresno by the end of 2025. He said he anticipates a contract to be awarded for the work in June.

Plaza's cultural significance, past and present

Mariposa Plaza has become a much more bustling hub over the past few years, said Elliott Balch, CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership, who noted that 104,000 people visited the public square in the past year - a 41% increase from last year.

"We've got a thrill moment here at this location," he added.

The plaza holds a significant place in local Fresno labor history as the site of what historians say is California's first free speech fight - the Fresno Free Speech Fight. For five months in 1910 and 1911, the Industrial Labor Workers of America galvanized hundreds to organize farm laborers and immigrant workers from Armenia, Italy and Mexico at this corner and help them agitate for higher wages.

Over 65 workers were arrested and jailed during that time period for giving speeches about the power of unionizing. The actions of the Fresno Police Chief to jail anyone who spoke out against business interests were cheered on by the then-Mayor Dr. Chester Rowell, and his nephew, the editor of the Fresno Morning Republican, Chester H. Rowell.

Arias said that the plaque denoting the site as a California Historical Landmark will remain.

Over time, even as many businesses have packed up for the strip malls of north Fresno and Clovis, the plaza has remained a cultural center.

"On any given day, you just look around and you'll see the elderly here, who find this as their place to come and congregate with their friends, their family, and just socializing with one another. The new plaza won't push them out, it's going to give them a much better facility and much better outdoor space to do exactly that," said Arias, who represents downtown.

Water, sewer mains to be upgraded by 2025

Dyer's announcement about upgrading water and sewer mains downtown marks the first concrete projects to come out of the state's first $50 million down payment for downtown revitalization efforts, first announced last year.

Water mains will be upgraded or replaced on the following streets downtown:

  • Ventura Avenue
  • H Street
  • Tulare Street
  • Broadway Street
  • Congo and Homerun Alley
  • Mariposa Street
  • G Street
  • E Street
  • Fagan Alley
  • Inyo Street
  • Santa Clara Street
  • San Benito Street

Sewer mains will be replaced or upgraded on the following streets downtown:

  • E Street
  • Tulare Street
  • Kern Street
  • Ventura Avenue
  • Broadway/H Street Alley
  • Homerun Alley
  • Federal Alley
  • Fulton Street
  • Van Ness Ave/L Street Alley

Dyer had previously announced more investments downtown - from new parking garages to housing and parks - as part of a more comprehensive $300 million revitalization scheme, financially backed by the state. The governor's current budget proposal does not include a second payment to Fresno after the original $50 million, as originally planned.

Those investments are still coming, he said.

Dyer also announced that the currently vacant Helm Building, across from Mariposa Plaza, is set to be converted into 100 units of student housing.

"We have a waiting list of people to live downtown. And what makes a great downtown is where people live and work in place," Dyer said.

Funding for the Mariposa Plaza project comes from California's Transformative Climate Communities grant and from federal American Recovery and Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. The planning and design contract was awarded to San Francisco-based WRT Planning and Design and Fresno-based Urban Diversity Design; and, construction of the plaza was awarded to Fresno-based American Paving Company.

This article first appeared on Fresnoland and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.