The Fresno City Council has voted 6-1 to accept a construction bid to turn the Fulton Mall back into a street. The vote is a significant, and nearly final step, in the long fight over what to do with the pedestrian walking mall in the middle of downtown Fresno.
The city hall was packed for the vote with many people wearing orange ‘I believe in Downtown Fresno’ tee-shirts appearing to greatly outnumber opponents of the project. Most of the supporters called on the council to remove the mall, which they consider a moribund drag on downtown development.
“I would encourage you to open up that access way and allow the energy to flow it. It is going to be the life blood of your downtown,” said supporter J. Colin Petersen .
Numerous other downtown residents, business owners, and potential developers stepped to the podium to ask the council to take what may be the final vote before construction of the project.
Opponents of the plan made on final plea for the council to pull back and preserve the mall.
“Big bucks are being thrown into making it the same, just like every place else. Why can’t we do something good and different?” said Nancy Waidtlow.
Before the vote, council President Lee Brand said he is confident, this time the change will work.
“I am at 90% confidence level that we are making the right decision today that this will reap huge benefits in the future. I don’t talk about one year or two years. I am talking about 10 years or 15 years,” Brand said.
The package still faces hurdles. The proposal by American Paving is more than $2,000,000 over the city’s $20,000,000 dollar cap. If the price cannot be brought down, language in the package will halt it.
After the vote, Mayor Ashley Swearengin, one of the projects biggest backers, remained positive that the project can be trimmed enough to go forward.
“We have built in every layer of protection possible. It is important to be bold but that doesn’t meant you be bold and reckless,” Swearengin said.
The attorney for the main opposition group, the Downtown Fresno Coalition, is promising more legal challenges if the council attempts to press forward before their legal appeals are complete.
Doug Richert with the Downtown Fresno Coalition said if the council issues the order to begin construction, they will file an injunction to stop the work.
“Obviously, we are not going to allow one piece of cement broken before our other legal challenges are heard in court,” Richert said.
The one dissenting vote came from council member Paul Caprioglio. He cited opposition from resident in his district and proposed a scaled back plan that would remove roughly half the mall rather than the entire six blocks.