Story By: Frank Lopez


The “Dilemmas of Downtown Fresno: What is to be done?” was the subject of Monday’s colloquium in the Skylight Room at Fresno City College. Panelists – Victoria Gonzales, owner of Downtown Properties; Brian Calhoun, FCC instructor and former Fresno City Council member; and Fresno Bee reporter, George Hostetter – discussed issues surrounding Downtown Fresno’s revitalization efforts.

With the downtown revitalization having been in discussion for nearly 50 years, it is surprising that it is has not become the lively pedestrian filled area one associates with a ‘downtown.’

“We’ve almost purposefully destroyed downtowns in America when we spent 50 years of massively subsidizing the building of suburbs and interstate highways,” said FCC instructor Paul Gilmore, who helped in organizing the event. “Obviously that’s not going to concentrate people in a downtown.”

FCC instructor, Wendell Stephenson – who was moderator and opened the colloquium with an introduction – explained some of the issues concerning the downtown revitalization. He said, “Our hope is that at the very least a lot of information comes out about what they’re trying to do; what the hope is, whether it’s feasible, and maybe one the most radical issues is, should we keep putting good money into something that’s not going to work.”

The first panelist to address the audience was Gonzales, who aside from owning her own business, is also an FCC alumnus. For over 20 years, she has been involved with revitalizing the downtown area of Fresno.

Gonzales believes that more people living and visiting downtown will liven up those areas. “The missing link all these years has been the housing component,” she said. “You’ve got to get people living downtown and then you’ll see smaller businesses pop up around that.”

Along with the buildings that Gonzales’s business has helped establish, other private contractors are constructing buildings in effort for revitalization.

The downtown area is the ‘heart of our city’ says Gonzales. “Every downtown is the image of a certain city that is put out there for the rest of the world to see.”

Brian Calhoun was the second panelist to address the audience.  A member of the city council for eight years, Calhoun has been disappointed by the failure of implementing plans that have been proposed to revitalize downtown.

According to Calhoun there is no “real vision in terms of what downtown should be,” as he does not necessarily believe that there needs to be many people living in a downtown area for it to flourish.

“Having people live down there is important,” said Calhoun, “but you don’t need a lot of people down there if you have enough things for people to come and visit.”

The expansion of suburbs and urban shopping centers has taken people away from downtown areas. The people who move away from downtown areas do it because they can afford to. With lower income people living in a concentrated area, the conditions for crime increase.

If more people are moving away from downtown, it will succumb to urban decay.

There is also a misconception that the downtown areas are unsafe. However, according to Calhoun, statistics prove that the downtown area has a very low crime rate.

The final panelist to speak was Hostetter, who is very familiar with Fresno, as he frequents long walks all over different areas of town.

Hostetter is hopeful that downtown will flourish over time. He points out several factors that will help revitalize the downtown area such as, business, manufacturing and entertainment.

“The downtown is finding several niches that will make it thrive,” said Hostetter.

One can only hope that he is correct.