Both sides of the Fulton Mall debate have kicked into full battle mode in advance of the city council’s vote Thursday night. The save-the-mall crowd hosted a rally/party Saturday in the mall’s free speech area.
The debate revolves around whether the council should accept the city’s proposal to use a $16 million federal grant (and other matching funds) to reopen the main stretch of Fulton street to traffic (while updating the area’s worn infrastructure). Many (including Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin) believe that an open street would fundamentally change the economics of downtown by creating more marketable commercial spaces. Others believe the mall is a precious piece of historic architecture (and art and design) and should be preserved as such (with much needed upgrades in infrastructure). Still others, council member Sal Quintero for example, question the cost of opening the full six blocks to traffic and wonder if a compromise could be made. Quintero says he will put forth his own alternative at Thursday council meeting; It would open to traffic just the north and south sections of the mall and leave the center to serve as a town square of sort.
I predicted this could be a topic to end friendships, and I’ve seen enough social media posts to know I’m not far off. More than any spot in Fresno, the mall has a strong nostalgic pull and a deep emotional connection for all involved. Thursday’s council chambers will be jam-packed and the debate will be heated.
The council’s vote is important because it will very clearly affect the mall’s shape and form, something that has been debated almost since the mall was put in. More importantly, it will stand as proof of the city’s commitment to reviving its urban core.
And by “city” I mean all involved (the mayor, the council and all of us as citizens). Is there finally the political capital (and public will) to do something about downtown? Can that will and capital be focused into a resembling a consensus? Or will it get passed along to another generation (or at least another mayor)? We will know Thursday night.
My thoughts: The worst thing that could happen now is nothing.