Opponents of a plan to open the Fulton Mall up to traffic held a rally in the mall on Saturday ahead of Thursday’s City Council meeting. Katie Eleneke / The Collegian
A showdown is set for Thursday where, after years of debate, Fresno City Council is expected to decide the fate of the Fulton Mall.
The decision: whether or not to remodel the mall and allow traffic to pass through, ending its 50-year history as a pedestrian mall.
At the 5 p.m. meeting, for which both sides promise to come out en masse, the council will decide whether or not to accept funding, revise the general plan and certify the environmental impact report for the project.
The project would be funded by nearly $16 million in federal grants already awarded to Fresno. In addition, the City will apply for $1.8 million from Measure C funding.
This comes after the Feb. 5 Planning Commission meeting unanimously endorsed the project.
The issue, a key part of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s downtown revitalization effort, has galvanized activists on both sides of the project to go into overdrive.
During a rally at the mall Saturday 60 people clad in green “Save the Fulton Mall” shirts voiced their opposition to the proposed plan.
Kiel Schmidt, an organizer of the event, said there are better things the city can do for the mall than opening it up to traffic.
“We’re here because we think the Fulton Mall as a pedestrian mall can contribute to downtown revitalization, and we want to see it restored and properly cared for,” Schmidt said.
“We don’t think that a street is the answer. There are bigger economic problems at play and we need to do some of the more simple, small steps to make revitalization to happen, and it is happening.”
During the two-hour event, speakers decried the plan saying that it would hurt the history, art and community in the Fulton Mall.
One speaker even went as far to vow that if the plan is approved she will chain herself to a tree blocking bulldozers from construction.
“I am going to tie myself to that tree down there if they come down with those bulldozers, and I hope you will join me,” she said.
Another major concern of Fulton Mall preservationists is the possibility that once traffic is allowed rates might go up, forcing some renters out.
Steve Skibbie, Downtown Fresno Partnership business liaison and proponent of the plan, said that’s not always a bad thing. Rising property values, he said, will lead to a more competitive business market and greater diversity.
“There’s four botanicas, and two of them are named the same thing. There’s six cowboy boot stores. There’s these kind of things,” Skibbie said. “Diversity helps an area survive, and I think the rising value of the properties helps the properties survive.”
Fresno was the second city in the nation to have a pedestrian mall in the 1960s, and there was no precedent set that they were economically viable, he said.
“In 180 other cities they did the same thing to their pedestrian malls , and they saw great success in their downtowns after being in very depressed economic situations, like ours is currently,” Skibbie said.
Skibbie is optimistic that the council will okay the project.
“But then again, it’s the City Council, and who knows what you’re going to get,” he said.
If passed, construction could begin as early as next February.