Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

‘Nobody’s afraid to come downtown anymore’


Sunday’s Bee had a good story from intern Victoria Guida about the rise of Fresno’s Mural District or Uptown or the Cultural Arts District — or whatever the cool kids are calling that section of downtown these days. As I read it, one quote jumped off the page at me:

“Nobody’s afraid to come downtown anymore.”

That was from area business owner Carla Barraza, whose point of view offers a good framework for a story about the makeover in the area. She knew it when it was dangerous place, and now she’s seeing it transform thanks to Fulton 55, Iron Bird Lofts, the numerous other housing developments and the businesses they’ve attracted.

But it was that one statement of hers — not just because of the obvious hyperbole — that I dwelled on for a while. As you’d expect, the oft-belligerent comments on took exception, spouting off with statement such as:

You have to love these Fictional Puff Pieces written for the benefit of the mayor. Too bad it has zero credibility as most people know it’s the Bad Lands. HA!

Maybe if you live south of Olive Avenue you’re not afraid…….I think most north and central Fresno residents would strongly disagree with your statement……..


Truth is, there’s no right answer for this. There are still plenty of people still scared to come downtown — if only for unfamiliarity’s sake. And there are plenty of people whose minds’ have changed thanks to some of the recent advances.

If nothing else, the Iron Bird Cafe post from last week showed us there’s a passionate group of people who care about the area and its businesses, even if it’s not the majority of Fresnans.

The whole “being scared of downtown” thing is like the “nothing to do in Fresno” thing was a five years ago. People in the know will tell you it’s completely foolish, but the people who believe it probably aren’t going to have upturn their beliefs because of one story they read in the paper.

That sort of change is going to require the downtown scaredy cats taking one chance, followed by a series of positive experiences and finally, maybe, one day, an epiphany.

Still, this is all about perception — and everybody’s is different — so I’m curious to hear some opinions:

  • Do YOU feel less afraid to visit downtown Fresno than you did a year ago? Two years ago? If not, what’s it going to take for you to feel comfortable? Or will you ever?
  • For you longtime downtown supporters, do you think a significant dent has been made into the perception that downtown is a place that Fresnans should fear?

RELATED: Google Map of Fulton Street developments

Responses to "‘Nobody’s afraid to come downtown anymore’"

Pywackett says:

I grew up in Visalia so am unfamiliar with the perception Downtown years ago. I currently live at Tulare and R and have made a few late night trips walking to Club One/Grizzlies Stadium/Heroes etc. It has been very safe and very quiet and weaving in between the buildings to get back home in the wee hours of the night can be quite peaceful.

I am one of those people who is apprehensive to go into Downtown – if I do go it’s usually with a group of people. I’m not too familiar with the area, first of all, which is my own issue – I know I need to explore Downtown, especially since there are so many great business/attractions there now. Second, I guess I’m still leery based on how “bad” Downtown’s reputation was for such a long time. I’ll just have to give it a chance and see for myself.

Benjamin says:

3 years ago I moved from Fresno to San Jose.

I grew up visiting Fulton Mall. As a kid living in San Luis Obispo, my family would take a trip every summer to visit relatives—and shop at the swamp mall. It had all those wonderful things you can only find in the ghetto: fruit cups with chile, cheap stereo equipment, and 3-for-$10 shirts.

I was a kid—and these things were awesome (they still are).

When I moved to Fresno in ‘03 (Ashlan/West), I realized the Shaw divide (I guess it’s Herndon, now). I was embarrassed to admit I loved downtown.

When I left to San Jose State, downtown Fresno was on the upswing—there was a buzz surrounding the new construction. I still couldn’t get any of my Riverpark friends to meet for drinks south of Tower.

I visited about a month ago, and even the most skeptical people agreed to meet at…Tokyo Garden! They even brought their girlfriends.

What a difference a few years makes. The perception was totally different. After a night out downtown, they were no longer scared of the area.


Bina says:

I’m from north of Herndon Ave and I feel safer in Granite Park than I do in Riverpark. I shop at Vallarta @Granite Park frequently. Always late at night, and I have never felt scared while there.

Riverpark after dark is scarier to me. I feel I’m more likely to be robbed/assaulted at Riverpark. If I have to go there, I will go during the day only.

floydy says:


Richele says:

My GAM (grandma) has lived in a downtown neighborhood for over 60 years, so I’ve spent a lot of time there. In fact, at one point both of my grandmas worked on the Fulton Mall so my mom would take my sister and I down to visit them often when we were kids. Over the years there have been periods of time when downtown, the Fresno Fair, even areas around Fresno State were threatening to me, especially with gang violence. But in recent years, I feel Fresno as a whole is much safer than it used to be. It’s exciting to see downtown brought to life again! I hope everyone in Fresno can adopt the restoration attitude and give downtown a chance. Downtown is a key part of Fresno’s heritage and we should embrace it and be proud of it once again!

Conlan says:

It’s easy to argue against the straw man that “nobody” is afraid to go downtown. (As Mike pointed out, it was obviously not meant to be taken literally — most English speakers should be familiar with this form of hyperbole). There are still plenty of people who are afraid it. But it seems undeniable that fewer people are afraid to go downtown, based on the simple fact that many people are going downtown who didn’t go before.

For many Fresnans, the pros of going downtown don’t yet outweigh the (real or perceived) cons. And that’s OK. I’m of the opinion that we should spend less time trying to convince prejudiced people that downtown is cool (even though it is) and more time making it even cooler. Those without a downtown prejudice will continue to come downtown in increasing numbers and the prejudiced ones will appear more and more foolish. It’s just a matter of getting to the tipping point.

Michael Canton says:

As founder and one of the proud owners of Iron Bird Cafe, I give you the following quote from the majority of first-time visitors to the cafe: “Downtown must start a couple miles further because this entire area is just absolutely beautiful.”

The truth is, most people who speak in the negative of Downtown haven’t been here in years. It’s a shame that they will never see true style and class, such as Fulton 55 and all the new lofts that are opening soon.

Reminds me of all the people who have lived in Oakland all their lives and never visited SF.

Grace Solis says:

I spent a lot of time in Chinatown during the 70′s and 80′s (my family owned the Mexico Cafe). I was never afraid to walk around the neighborhood and have never been afraid to go downtown. I recently served as the Executive Director of Arte Americas; we were open late hours at times, had many outdoor events and never had any problems. I can’t recall any art hop robberies or assaults in the last few years and the Iron Lofts area is wonderful! Fulton 55 is a great placer to hang out and we walk to our cars late at night without having to worry. Maybe Chief Dyer should release some statistics to put everyone at ease????

Cody says:

My family is an upper middle class family that has always lived in Clovis (Quail lakes), or track homes in Sanger and after seeing the Iron bird lofts and going to Art hop and just hanging out we decided that we wanted to live down here and be apart of a city lifestyle that Fresno has been missing for years. There is 24 hour security always around, the bike cops are always riding around the district and since they are based out of Iron bird i actually know them (how many north Fresno people actually know the Police officers that patrol their neighborhood?). I have a much closer relationship with my neighbors because I see them and talk to them therefore know what type of people they are (unlike everyone being couped up in their track home not knowing the person across the street or two houses down). My parents are raising my 5 year old sister down here and she loves to go to the cafe and walk around and see all the cool art and go to aart hop it truly is a safe neighborhood that gives the sense if culture that Fresno hasnt had since before the war. So those North Fresno/Clovis people who want to bash downtown go ahead..its their loss..their ignorance prevents them from experiencing a fun new neighborhood that has more to offer than ANY crappy north Fresno area.

Rachel says:

Is it just me? Have I been the only victim of robbery at gun point? Has no one’s car been stolen more then once? I do NOT feel safe downtown. I love walking around my area and neighborhood, walking distance from The Lofts. I’m also always alone. I’m more afraid of the bums that follow me to my car, into a restaurant, or beg for money as I walk into thrift stores. I can’t walk two blocks without bum(s) walking up to me, asking for money. I no longer let any stranger into my perimeter without screaming! Lol, sounds funny, but it’s the only thing that keeps them away. It doesn’t stop me from going downtown either. Mmmm. . . fruit with chili powder and lemon. . .

pk says:

Lived in SE Fresno, now in North Fresno…..
have always enjoyed every part of Fresno. I think
there are more problems in areas of SE Fresno than downtown. Afraid?….eh, not really. Go to events at the Chuck and Saroyan and Tokyo Garden, shopped on the Mall, and have gone to the Casino…its just like anywhere….
be mindful of your surroundings..

things can happen anywhere….

Alice Keeler says:

I moved my family from Clovis to downtown Fresno. Downtown USE to scare me, but no more. We’ve lived here 6 years and I have no fear! We live within walking distance of Iron Bird Cafe and Grizzlies Stadium, it is an exciting time to come downtown!

JJJ says:

Here’s the thing, you can’t say the following statement:

“Downtown is dangerous, nobody goes there”

If theres nobody there, then who is doing the dangerous stuff? :/

Downtown can be weird at times because of how some streets are just 100% empty. It’s not dangerous, it’s just creepy. Mind you, Im talking about the area furthest west, near the tracks. I think thats what people think when theys ay downtown is scary and havent been for 10 years.

The area around Community is all built up, with some great modern architecture. And of course, the fulton corridor is getting much livelier. Now, places like Belmont/Ceder? That can be scary at night. Just note how every single business has thick iron bars on their windows.

Jeffrey Whitaker says:

Club One! Kiku! Paris Cafe! Come and Get It Chicken and Waffles! Club Brazil! Mezcal! The Chuck! Karma! The Cosmopolitan! Central Fish! Mediterranean Grill! Hero’s! Lums Chop Suey!

Stephen says:

I, too, live at Tulare and R (Hi Pywackett!), and I too, walk downtown sometimes, but not very often.

To walk downtown alone means knowing the area VERY well, knowing where to walk and when. The bum problem, the mentally ill, and during the day anything around the courthouse is pretty intimidating and scary.

Also worrisome are the long stretches of nothing that sometimes have to be traversed – but this is waning thanks to Reza and Craig Scharton and all the brave and wonderful entrepreneurs giving downtown a shot.

I love staying at the Holiday Inn downtown and having friends stay there, but right across the street is dangerous and dark courtyard park. Club One is lit and safe and great. But a short 2-block walk to Heroes (all of my examples are at night) can be dicey.

We’re still at a point where it’s a good start, but there’re still a ton of holes to be filled downtown, a lot of tweakers to shoo away, and certainly more family-friendly opportunities. I would NEVER walk around downtown except to Grizzly games with my “kids” in tow. Downtown is for the street-smart.

It’s why I still dedicate 80% of my time/money to the Tower.

Bridget Conlon says:

I live in the Vagabond Lofts and I feel very safe. I honestly believe that when people express fears about coming downtown, they are mostly expressing prejudices they hold about people who look less advantaged, or seem to be different in a variety of ways. I used to live right by Fresno State and found it much more intimidating than this neighborhood. Here, it is generally quiet, pleasant, and even friendly sometimes. I understand that many people still find downtown frightening, but I want to assure anyone who reads this. Fulton 55 is a great live music venue. Whole Farms is my favorite place to get food (really pretty much my favorite place in town). Iron Bird Café has reasonably priced coffee and food. Not to mention the area gets a great turnout for ArtHop! If you want to find one-of-a-kind places with real personality, you should check out downtown. I have a feeling if you talked to someone who lived around here, he or she might agree – while acknowledging that there are people on the North side of town who would find the neighborhood scary. I would take this neighborhood over the Tower District easily.

Stephen says:

I wonder if we should break downtown into sections. Downtown itself is huge. When we speak of the Tower District and how safe and wonderful it is, we’re usually only referencing Olive from Palm to Van Ness, and 2-3 blocks either side of it. Not a huge area.

With downtown, Bridget speaks well of Fulton/Divisadero and the Fulton corridor, and not many block away from that. Us Tulare and R folks feel fine on Tulare from R to Chukchansi and most of Van Ness/Inyo, but notsomuch outside of that.

The ‘Mural District’ map you post hugs Fulton and doesn’t go south of Tuolomne, even tho Van Ness to Heroes and Joe’s Steakhouse is certainly ‘downtown.’ But even walking Huntington Blvd from R to the beautiful Candy Cane Lane is really dicey at night (crossing 41 through the DMZ).

Maybe we should break downtown up somehow for discussion. Mural District and Fulton Mall/Chukchansi, Community Hospital Area, and…?

Nikki says:

Personally I do love downtown and yes am I cautious and nervous not so much scared but then again I don’t know many places I do feel safe at night I’m a really small chick. We live in a scary world the reason downtown seems worse is it’s soooo empty it’s easy to get creeped out when it’s so quite and calm. I feel like in other busier areas there would at least be a witness if something happened to me.

Karma says:

some people are scared of the internet, some people are scared of roller derby, some people are even scared of programming their TiVo. does that mean those things shouldn’t be done? i think you know my answer…

Jen says:

Afraid to go downtown? Not really, if I have a good reason to be there and am with other people. There just aren’t many good reasons to go downtown.

Daphne says:

I have taken the bus downtown, walked downtown, enjoyed Teazers (Tea shop)as well as other restaurants, attended concerts, etc. Never felt afraid. Downtown Fresno has some lovely spots — they just need more of them.

Nick says:

My wife and I live at the H Street Lofts and run our business out of an office at the Iron Bird Lofts. This is a great multi-use area and it is nice walking to work in the morning, where else in Fresno can you do that. We also take our dog on walks around the area nightly, even after dark and do not find downtown scary at all. Of course you get the occasional bum asking for money, but is that not everywhere in Fresno now a days. We have lived all over Fresno/ Clovis and have never had nicer neighbors. It is sad that people are missing out on such a wonderful area of Fresno. But it is not to late for you nay sayers, there are multiple residential and commercial locations under construction. Oh one more cool addition coming soon to “Uptown” is a park that will have an area for entertainment, bbq’s, and a dog park, can’t wait!