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.
In other Fresno governance news, the planning commission last night voted, 6-0, advising the City Council to certify an environmental report and designate the six-block-long stretch of the Fulton Mall as a street.
Those blocks are currently designated open space/pedestrian mall.
This is the latest in the debate on the ultimate fate of the mall and a step closer to seeing at least a portion of it opened to traffic. It did not come without debate. There are those who would like to see the mall kept intact (with needed improvements), though the likelihood of such action seems to be shrinking. Only two options will be presented to the council in the next few months and both involve streets and cars.
A third option, calling for preservation of the mall, seems to have disappeared altogether.
Zest California Grill & Bar has opened inside the downtown Holiday Inn on Van Ness Avenue. This restaurant that has been serving breakfast and dinner for a while, but a new management company is shaking things up by opening for lunch with the new look and name.
Perhaps the biggest change is the removal of dark brown blinds from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Now, it’s a bright, airy space painted in shades of lime and lemon that’s leading some passers-by to say “hey, I didn’t even know this was here.” Zest’s main entrance faces that stretch of walking mall between Fulton Mall and Courthouse Park. You can get there from the hotel itself and its garage too (and they validate parking if you park in the Holiday Inn garage). Also eye-catching is the chalk art on the walls and a pillars local tattoo artist Danny Duran.
The food is “fresh California cuisine.” That means lots of wraps, sandwiches, salads and three soups that change daily. Many of the dishes are on the lighter side — so the fettuccine alfredo won’t be the heavy dish you’re used to, says chef Bryan Fetzer — but you’ll also find a 14-ounce rib-eye and burgers on the menu. The restaurant also has vegetarian and gluten-free options, including eggplant Parmesan and a black bean and corn quesadilla.
The restaurant is open now and will celebrate its grand opening Feb. 4.
I bet there’s some celebrating going on at Peeve’s Public House & Local Market right now. The business met its Kickstarter goal around lunchtime Friday, meaning it will move forward with opening Fresno’s first market carrying only local foods. The market is designed to be a showcase for Fresno foods and give a boost to its fledgling food businesses. You can read more about the plans here. Construction is scheduled to start Monday and the peeps at Peeve’s hope to have the market open by Nov. 24, just in time for Thanksgiving.
If Peeve’s didn’t reach its goal of raising $18,500 in pledges by Saturday, Kickstarter wouldn’t give them any of the money. As of Friday morning, it was still about $2,000 short. Fundraising on the page continues until Saturday afternoon (they’re at $19,106 as I write this). Any extra money raised will go toward paint and decor.
It’s been pretty cool to watch people proactively take on this cause without the folks at Peeve’s even asking. One customer pledged to get 10 people to donate $100 each. A taco night fundraiser by James Collier brought in lots of money and awareness. Raizana Teas held a fundraiser too. The sense of community and loyalty that surrounds Peeve’s is pretty impressive and it paid off today.
Bring up the topic of Fulton Mall, and from many Fresnans — particularly those who live in the far-out ‘burbs, where streets are paved with gold, birds chirp in extravagant gardens, and every pedestrian has taken a shower this morning — you get a knee-jerk reaction:
A big long whine about parking.
Somewhere along the line, many people in Fresno and the surrounding area decided that the most important thing about a city’s downtown is that it has acres of free, flat parking. Never mind that nearly all downtowns need some sort of way to regulate parking (otherwise the people that work there would take up all the spaces). And never mind that downtown Fresno actually has lots of easily accessible parking — and priced so inexpensively that it could give a San Francisco meter maid cardiac arrest. Just read recent letters to the editor. People seem to want their parking in big, Wal-Mart-style lots. And they want it free.
My Beehive colleague Josh Tehee, in his 7 section column last Friday, tackled the topic. In this matter we’re in complete agreement: Parking is a non-issue for the Fulton Mall. There’s plenty of it, and expecting it to be free is just silly.
In the spirit of a free-wheeling discussion, I called on an acquaintance of mine, The Parking Grouch, to put Josh through the paces. He readily agreed.
The Parking Grouch: Read your piece from Friday, Josh. Let me tell you a little story. I just got back from a quick shopping trip to one of those sporting goods stores that’s big enough to be its own county. I drove right up, grabbed a prime spot right in front after cutting off a little-old lady, and I walked into the store sweat-free. No walking for me! Even if I wanted to shop at the Fulton Mall, which I don’t, why would I want to drive down there and fight for parking?
Peeve’s Public House & Local Market officially opened Monday on Fulton Mall. You may remember my sneak preview post about the coffee shop/pub/restaurant/local market. What I didn’t talk much about in that post was the food that will be served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s “hyper local,” meaning as many things as possible are sourced locally. Peeve’s serves Lanna Coffee and Raizana teas. The smoothies served Monday, for example, have nectarines from the Masumoto family farm in Del Rey, kale from Kristina’s Natural Ranch Market and Fresno state grapes and watermelon. (And they plan to run with that hyper local emphasis even more, getting locally milled flour and T-shirts that are sewn here.)
Peeve’s will have a limited menu with very few options to choose from — say, a burger and a vegetarian option for dinner — but it will change almost daily. It will serve chilled soups in summer and hot soup in winter. A Fresno State sweet corn chowder was on the menu Monday. Peeve’s has hired Sean Dunn, formerly of Water 2 Wine and Love & Garlic catering, as its chef.
The guest chefs will be a highlight of Peeve’s. About every two weeks, a local chef will be invited in to serve dinner. Friday, it will be “The Dusty Family,” otherwise known as the Stewarts who run Dusty Buns. Seatings are at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and the three-course meal costs $35. Reserve a seat by emailing email@example.com. More on that here.
The public market portion of Peeve’s selling local food products will be open in about six weeks.
In the coming months (and, likely, years — let’s hope it isn’t decades), we here at the Beehive will keep you updated on an important community flash-point topic: the Fulton Mall and the proposal to open it up to traffic. We’ll call it Fulton Focus.
In this morning’s Bee, there was an interesting letter to the editor on the issue. In response to the Page 1 headline “Federal grant is same as saying Fulton Mall was a mistake,” Mary Savala writes:
The feds made us do it? No. The fault for the demise of downtown and the failure of the Fulton Mall to revitalize downtown lies right in City Hall. The city of Fresno approved residential developments, shopping centers and strip malls one after the other in the 1960s, bleeding the lifeblood of downtown. And the city of Fresno never implemented a housing element in the ingredients for a vital downtown although recommended by the mall’s designer.
Don’t blame the federal government for bad local land-use policies. Let’s accept and learn from the mistakes that made Fresno sprawl and just about killed downtown instead of trying to pass the buck.
As the debate gears up on whether to open the Fulton Mall to traffic — and it will get intense, no question — I wholeheartedly agree with Savala’s contention that Fresno’s relentless embrace of sprawl had more to do with downtown’s woes than whether you could drive your car up Fulton St. (And that sprawl-love includes the latest baffling support for a health-sciences university 20 miles from downtown, far from any existing infrastructure.) The Fulton Mall question is as complex as a decades-long issue involving quick-buck developers, pliant politicians and a car-worshiping culture can be. To make it into a black-and-white “it’s all because we yanked the cars out” argument is too simple.
I know lots of you were there, so feel free to add your impressions. In the meantime, here’s a little recap of how the business is shaping up. (As you may recall, Peeve’s takes over for the much beloved Fresno Brewing Company, which closed about a month ago.) Former city official Craig Scharton is planning to open the spot — he’s shooting for Sept. 16 — as a restaurant, bar and market selling locally made goods. Peeve, by the way, is his dog (“pet peeve” — get it?).
The dark pub feel has been brightened up a bit with some green and yellow paint. There are new wood benches and wainscoting made from salvaged wood.
Peeve’s will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with outside food providers coming in to serve the food. The food will be “hyper local,” meaning it comes from farmers markets and the like. The restaurateur behind Mabel’s Kitchen downtown (which has closed, sadly) will be providing breakfast, for example. Others are still being finalized. Guest chefs will come in about once every two weeks to serve a special dinner. The wide variety of craft beers will stay on the menu (check out that photo below, that’s a lot of beer).
The market in the little slice of building next door will carry locally made food, such as P*DE*Q‘s little Brazilian cheese bread balls and Ooh de Lolli‘s ice pops. A Kickstarter campaign will start soon to pay for the shelves, refrigerators and freezers.
Downtown Fresno saw two well-attended and super-cool events happen within one-month’s times. That’s the jumping off point for the latest episode of Flowing with Famous, the podcast for the Fresnophile in all of us. Once again I am joined by podcast guru Mike Seay.
For those who don’t following along, Flowing with Famous, is a long-running Fresno-centric podcast, where I sit down with podcast guru Mike Seay to talk about the city’s culture, media, music and politics.
Fresno Brewing Company has done a good job of establishing itself as a hub for the craft beer set (also as a more-than-decent music venue, but that’s a different post). For those who care about things like IBUs and ABV percentages, this is the place to go and last night was perfect case in point. The Napoletano brothers (Matt and Nick) took over for the evening and showed off some of their favorite brews, including some kind of super-special keg of Tioga-Sequia’s Sugar Pine Cocoa-Vanilla Porter. I had the Obsidian Stout from Deschutes Brewery.
There was also some music, fire-eating and general good times had.
The new Saigon Deli opened last week at 944 Fulton Mall, just north of Tulare Avenue. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant in the longtime Tommy’s Hamburgers spot with the wooden porch out front.
Tommy died last October in a drowning accident and the restaurant was closed. You can read his obit here.
The new folks have a menu full of Asian food like pho, noodle bowls, rice dishes, spring rolls, and banh mi — Vietnamese sandwiches.
Some of Tommy’s old customers requested the restaurant keep their favorite hamburgers and the family agreed. In addition to the regular menu, a “Tommy’s Classics” menu is up the wall, featuring all kinds of burgers. Chili cheese burger, anyone?
The restaurant doesn’t have a website yet, but is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (which means yes, they serve breakfast too). They are still figuring out their weekend hours. Here’s some photos from my recent experience there.
The opening of the Fulton Mall ice rink has been postponed until Friday. It was supposed to open today, but something about ice not freezing at 80 degrees tripped things up.
The rink, a project of the Downtown Fresno Partnership, opens at 10 a.m. and runs through Jan. 13. To thank people for their patience, the first 100 in line at the opening get in free. Details here. The opening coincides with Mattie’s Mobile Wood Fired Pizza and Catering testing out a permanent location nearby at Mariposa Mall.
The downtown partnership folks have a sense of humor about the delay and posted this on their Facebook page:
Below are a few pics of the ice rink, which is at the Fulton Mall’s Mariposa Street intersection, in front of the old Security Bank building. Here’s a map.
Sudz in the City is this Saturday and, if you’ve been paying attention you know this annual Fresno brew fest comes with plenty of changes this year. It changed seasons (from May to October), locations (from Chukchansi Park to Fulton Mall) and focuses (from the beer big boys to smaller microbrews).
The woman at the center of the Sudz switch is Kate Borders, the CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership. It’s her first Sudz since coming to Fresno to take her post last year. Re-tooling the popular annual event is another of the bold ideas she’s brought with her — ya know, like the downtown ice rink that’s opening soon or Over the Edge, which sent people rappelling down Fresno’s biggest building.
I wanted to ask Borders about the changes for Sudz, to get in her head a little bit. She was happy to oblige.
1. SEE TWIN SHADOW You know how The Cellar Door in Visalia gets all those cool concerts? Well, organizers are saying tonight’s is the biggest one of the year. It’s with ’80s-inspired dance-pop act (and critical darling) Twin Shadow and the very groovy Poolside. In fact, I’ve heard people from L.A. and S.F. have been buying most of the advance tickets. Don’t miss out, local hipsters! Read this interview I did with Twin Shadow to get you ready. [Tickets]
Today Fresno welcomes another step forward in its growing mobile food culture. CArthop, a weekly gathering of mobile food vendors, debuts at 10 a.m. on the Fulton Mall. The event is a joint effort from Dusty Buns Bistro Bus and Fresno Brewing Co.
The fine gents at Dead in 60 Years have put together a nice taste of last Saturday night’s Catacomb Party on the Fulton Mall. It was organized by promoter Religious Appeal and local band Fierce Creatures, who used the event as its album release party. The video is a bit long, but if I may, I’ll implore you to stick around for the second half of the video, which is an epic sing-along of Fierce Creatures’ best-known song “Satan is a Vampire.” It was the show closer — and a great one at that.
The event served as the release party for Fierce Creatures’ new album, with nine other bands joining for a free, all-ages show in the heart of downtown Fresno. The crowd was big. People were raving all evening about it. It was, to put it simply, a big win for downtown and for the local music scene.
I’ll have some in-depth thoughts about the event to share later, but for now let’s celebrate the night in 140-character form.
CATACOMB PARTY: Indie rockers Fierce Creatures have their big Catacomb Party album release concert on Saturday. It’s a free, all-ages event with nine other bands joining Fierce Creatures outdoors on the Fulton Mall. It’s the local music event of the week, for sure.
CAN I GET AN ENCORE? Looks like Encore Nightclub is having a big “grand opening” weekend — it’s been open, but ya know how these things go. It’s fully operational as an 18+ place, which is worth a note. This is, if you’re wondering, the most re-named club in Fresno. It’s the former On the Rocks, Bliss, Bisla’s, XO and most recently NVS.
1. THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it’s finally here: The Star Wars Pub Crawl in the Tower District to celebrate May 4 (aka May the Fourth Be With You). Ten different bars are in, with signature drinks, games and contests. The whole thing starts at 7:30 p.m. with a gathering of Jedis, Sith, wookies, etc., in the parking lot behind Livingstone’s. Read my column from The Bee for more info. [Info]
ARTHOP, JAZZHOP AND — INTRODUCING! — THURSDAY NIGHT LIVE: Thursday is the first Thursday of the month, meaning it’s ArtHop and JazzHop . There are fliers for those below, but might I suggest stopping by the Warnors Theatre complex? Thursday is also the start of a new weekly concert series — Thursday Night Live on the Fulton Mall. If you remember, Fulton Plaza Thursdays, it’s kinda like that, but hopefully better. MoFo Party Band plays the first one. There’s no cover. More deets.
TWO BIG DOWNTOWN FESTIVALS: The downtown calendar overlaps this weekend with the two big annual events: the Fresno Tattoo Expo (Saturday and Sunday at the Fresno Convention Center) and the Cinco De Mayo festival (Friday-Sunday on the Fulton Mall).
APCAL IS BACK: The popular summer concert series at ApCal Winery in Fresdera (the address is in Madera, but it’s just an exit past Herndon on 99) returns on Friday night. Local band Deja Blues, which set the attendance record last summer, kicks things off. It’s also hosting a beer and wine festival with comedians for Cinco De Mayo on Saturday.
For the next in my 7Qs series, I cornered Ephiram Bosse to ask him questions about his recently opened Fulton Mall business, Fresno Brewing Co. It’s a coffee place with plans for beer in the coming months — hitting both ends of the brewing spectrum, ya know?
One update to something Bosse talks about in the video: Twee Boutique, the cool Tower District boutique, has opened a second location next to Fresno Brewing Co., in what sounds like it’s going to be a commune of cool stuff.