by Tom Sims
Imagine a renaissance community that stretches from Divisadero in downtown Fresno to Riverpark at the very north of the city.
Imagine livable, workable, walkable spaces, friendly to bikes, children, pedestrians, and browsers.
Imagine being able to walk or ride a bike from Manchester to Old Town Clovis.
Imagine date night and jazz music along the corridor.
Imagine walking from shop to shop, stopping for coffee or lunch, sitting on a bench outside of your favorite shopping area, or hearing an outdoor concert in what used to be a drab mall.
Imagine vibrancy, nightlife, living, working, and moving in a community that mixes comfort, energy, art, and culinary delights with convenience, accessibility, and thriving business life.
Imagine a body with a head and extremities without a spine. Then imagine a spine traveling down the center of that body and holding it all together. In Fresno, the head is downtown, and the spine is Blackstone Avenue.
Imagine showing up at Fresno City Council on May 2 at 1:30 p.m. to encourage your city leaders to make it happen.
Blackstone is the spine of Fresno.
According to Keith Bergthold, Executive Director of Fresno Metro Ministry, the parent organization of The Better Blackstone Association, there are three major activity centers along Blackstone that command a priority commitment as the spine is strengthened. These are destinations and catalysts for future development along the corridor.
1. Shields/Manchester: extending from Dakota Avenue to Princeton Avenue. This is the hub of shopping as Manchester Mall is reinventing itself.
2. Weldon/Fresno City College: extending from Princeton Avenue to Hedges Avenue. The plans for the college and this hub are impressive.
3. Olive/Tower Gateway: extending from Hedges Avenue to Highway 180. This is the gateway to the Tower District.
The Better Blackstone Association has been spearheading community engagement in partnership with the City of Fresno, the Local Government Commission, and several other agencies for the last few years. With an eye on mixed use development, complete streets, and safe, livable, walkable neighborhoods, program managers Ivan Paz and Kelsey McVey have rallied neighbors, business owners, and community leaders and brought a diverse company of voices to the table to give feedback and compile ideas for imagining a Blackstone that is healthy and strong.
This kind of Blackstone finds people stopping, looking, walking, shopping, living, and working.
Better Blackstone describes itself as:
“An emerging association of diverse people and organizations who are committed to seeing new investment and revitalization of the Blackstone corridor. We want Blackstone to be a successful place for expanding and starting businesses, safe and clean neighborhoods, mixed-use developments, rapid transit systems, and convenient services, recreation, and entertainment that meet everyday needs. Better Blackstone members are leaders from businesses, institutions, and neighborhoods that are gathering throughout 2015 to build a shared vision and strong partnerships in order to actively build a Better Blackstone together.”
Blackstone Avenue has a long history. It was the old Highway 41. It was also the measuring stick for city expansion, first up to the construction of Manchester Mall at Shields and then, all the way to the San Joaquin River.
Blackstone Avenue is nine-miles long, but the chief focus for the first phase of development is two and a half miles stretching from Abby to Dakota. In a city with a 29% poverty rate, the rate along the corridor is 34%. There are approximately 2,100 businesses and 50,000 residents contained within that area.
In the last year, it has become the first route for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
It runs through every city council district but one.
It is a potential model for urban renewal, infill building, and redevelopment. Blackstone Avenue can and will become a destination, but it will take smarter design, community commitment, reordering of traffic priorities, rethinking building concepts, and more room for pedestrians and bicyclists.
In preparation for its final report, those guiding the process sought to hear every conceivable voice. The community engagement process included the following outreach activities: 8,300 flyers,15 neighborhoods canvassed, 1,700 residential and commercial doors being knocked on, 1,400 reminder, 3 E-News distributions, social media posts, a multi-day charrette gatherings, multiple hearings, community meetings, workshops, advisory committee meeting, open houses, briefings, and one-on-one meetings.
According to City of Fresno documents, the plan that has been developed addresses these goals:
1. Increased safety and access for all travel modes
2. Enhanced streetscapes with gateway and wayfinding signage
3. Safe and convenient pedestrian crossings
4. Safe and convenient bicycle access
5. Convenient and accessible transit
6. Better connection to adjacent neighborhoods
7. Improved accessibility and appeal for existing and future businesses.
Phase one of the project is viewable on the city’s website and on Fresno Metro Ministry’s site. It will be presented at a City Council meeting on May 2, at 1:30 p.m. Ivan Paz says that this is the big one. Even if we have had to miss other meetings, this is the one that the community must attend.
What is in it for everyone?
For residents, it means a better, safer quality of life.
For businesses, it means more customers.
For visitors and shoppers, it means a new destination, place to shop, and selection of nightlife venues.
For the community and tax payers it means more revenue from sales taxes.
For all, it means a location of which the city can be proud.
Better Blackstone advocates encourage your participation on May 2.
For more information or to review the Strategy:
Call: (559) 621-8181
This project is funded by the California Department of Transportation.