What can be done to make Blackstone Avenue more attractive to shoppers and businesses?
The question has been batted around since the end of the Manchester Mall’s glory days in the 1960s and ’70s when families flocked to Sears, Rhodes, GallenKamp Shoes, and a host of other merchants.
But, as buying tastes changed and newer malls were built, Blackstone began losing its luster.
Residents (particularly those who live in the heart of the city) along with city leaders and developers have brainstormed ideas ever since without finding a solution.
“One of the things we are working on is potentially putting our science building with all of our labs right on Blackstone at Weldon where our operations currently is located.”— Lucy Ruiz, executive director for public and legislative relations for State Center Community College District
Perhaps this will make a positive difference: Can you imagine Fresno City College’s brand-new $70 million science building on Blackstone?
According to the State Center Community College District (SCCCD), it could happen.
Stronger Presence For Fresno City College
Lucy Ruiz, the executive director for public and legislative relations for the SCCCD, said the district has been pushing for Fresno City College to have a stronger presence on Blackstone Avenue and believes the college’s new science building is the best way to do it.
“One of the things we are working on is potentially putting our science building with all of our labs right on Blackstone at Weldon where our operations currently is located,” Ruiz said, adding that the college’s new science building will be purchased with Measure C funds. “If people are driving down Blackstone, it would be nice to see a nice building rather than our operations building.”
“To get that investment on Blackstone is really important for the health and prosperity of central Fresno,” — Keith Bergthold, executive director, Fresno Metro Ministry
Fresno City College is one of many organizations offering advice on what they believe would help improve Blackstone.
Public Input Sought
Residents will have another chance Thursday, Aug. 23, to weigh in on changes they’d like to see on a 2.5-mile section of Blackstone, from Dakota Avenue to Highway 180.
Among the topics: Making Blackstone safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, and increasing access to businesses, schools, parks, and other institutions.
The community workshop is scheduled 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Ted C. Wills Community Center, 770 N. San Pablo Ave.
Keith Bergthold, executive director of the Fresno Metro Ministry, said two previous workshops at Fresno City College were fruitful. He said he expects to build on that momentum Thursday evening.
He believes better accommodation for bicyclists will help the street, which long has been one of Fresno’s main business corridors. “There are no bike lanes on Blackstone,” Bergthold said.
“Blackstone is a very special place in our community, but I caution those people who think that it is going to be a bicycle and pedestrian paradise.” — Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier
Fixing this problem, Bergthold said, will involve analyzing cross sections of streets and reviewing different design options.
Bergthold said another change that is slated to occur is widening the sidewalks from 4 feet to 12 feet.
He noted that there will also be changes to encourage new business investments and business expansion.
“To get that investment on Blackstone is really important for the health and prosperity of central Fresno,” Bergthold said.
Businesses Want Homeless Problems Solved
Phil Babcock, the owner of E.G. Babcock, a lawn equipment rental service in Fresno, said the best way to encourage new business investments and expansion is to fix the homeless issue on Blackstone.
“I drive by and there are people that have been living on the corner of Herndon and Blackstone every day for four or five years,” Babcock said. “The big issue with that is that they leave junk and trash around. Get them out of here.”
Anthony Pasco Jr. said he couldn’t agree more.
Pasco, the general manager for Sebring West Automotive Center near Ratcliffe Stadium, said the homeless issue on Blackstone is outrageous.
“What really needs to happen on Blackstone Avenue is some kind of controlling of the homeless people,” Pasco said.
In addition to picking up trash left by homeless people, Pasco said he’s witnessed some camping out at the business and urinating and defecating on the sidewalk in front of the business. Sebring West has been in business since 1971 and at its Blackstone location since 1978.
“It is not going to do any good to spend a whole lot of money on redeveloping Blackstone if we still have a bunch of homeless people that are messing it up,” Pasco said.
Pasco said buses stopping in the middle of the street to let passengers off is another issue he wants to see fixed on Blackstone.
The Council Member’s Take: Focus on Public Safety
Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier’s district includes a long stretch of Blackstone. Olivier said he understands what the project is trying to do, but isn’t sure if some of the proposed changes will happen anytime soon.
“Blackstone is a very special place in our community, but I caution those people who think that it is going to be a bicycle and pedestrian paradise,” Olivier said. “That is probably a bit out of reach, at least for now. We have to be realistic about what Blackstone is and what our capabilities are.”
Olivier said he believes public safety is most important in terms of improving Blackstone Avenue.
“That is the reason for the community workshops, to see what the community really wants and what they are willing to support…” — Keith Bergthold, Fresno Metro Ministry
According to the project’s existing conditions report, the project may also present speed limit changes and improvements at specific locations to reduce or prevent certain types of traffic accidents.
Financing The Project
As far as financing the project, Bergthold he will have a better idea of the costs when he takes a draft of the project proposal to the Fresno City Council. That is expected to be in February 2019.
“That is the reason for the community workshops, to see what the community really wants and what they are willing to support and that all gets translated into the cost later on,” Bergthold said.
Bergthold said there will be an open house Nov. 8 at which residents will be able to review the recommendations before they are put into the draft proposal.