Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot: Final Report. A4.3.3 SC2 Team Member Activities


Because the mayor’s vision and agenda were so clearly defined from the start, the work plan and implementation activities were structured to further the mayor’s short- and long-term vision for Fresno. Many objectives in the work plan aligned with the larger goals of revitalizing downtown Fresno and expanding the value-added food sector. The following section highlights SC2 team activities that demonstrate key accomplishments and the breadth of important SC2 team activities.

Revitalization of Downtown Fresno

The largest project that the SC2 team became involved in was the revitalization of downtown Fresno. Team members were active in efforts to reactivate and revitalize Fulton Mall (an unpopular outdoor pedestrian mall located in the heart of downtown), convene stakeholders to collectively advance efforts to locate a high-speed rail station near downtown, align the bus rapid transit line with key downtown sites, and engage residents in a revitalized community gathering place, Mariposa Plaza.

Fulton Mall. Fulton Mall and the surrounding 18-block street grid is the historic heart of downtown Fresno. Unfortunately, it currently hosts a large number of vacant storefronts and has lost nearly all of its street life. To reenergize this activity center, the city hoped to reopen the mall to traffic and capitalize on the location’s potential for multi-modal connectivity (e.g., high-speed rail and bus rapid transit). Progress toward this goal began in November 2011 when the mayor and her team worked with senior Department of Transportation officials to develop a purpose and need statement for the proposed project. The primary barrier to moving forward with the plan was a projected eight-year delay in the completion of the project’s environmental review process. The SC2 team worked with the City of Fresno and the California Transportation Department (the entity contracted to do the review) to expedite the review timeline, and the review is now moving very quickly. In addition to working through this identified barrier, the SC2 team helped to advance the vision for Fulton Mall’s 18-block area by providing technical assistance and serving as a sounding board for ideas. They also offered guidance on the scoring process for a TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant, for which the city had applied and not been funded in 2012. As a result of the city’s effort and the SC2 team’s support, the city revised its initial $16 million TIGER grant application and was awarded funding in 2013.

Coordinating Transportation. A key team member helped to engaged and increase communication between representatives from the Federal Rail Administration, the California High Speed Rail Authority, DOT, and the Federal Transit Authority. This team member spearheaded a multi-day convening of these groups to share information about their respective planning and infrastructure efforts. As a result of this meeting and follow-up conversations and technical assistance, Fresno made progress in locating the high-speed rail station near Fulton Mall. The partnership formed among these groups still exists and is now being led by the California High Speed Rail Authority. Additionally, technical assistance provided by this team member resulted in rerouting the new bus rapid transit line near the central downtown corridor so that it would touch the Fulton Mall and other key downtown sites.

Mariposa Corridor. In support of the city’s goal of downtown revitalization and economic development, a team member recommended the city pursue a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant to redevelop the Mariposa Plaza Corridor, which would connect the proposed high-speed rail station with the downtown Fulton pedestrian mall and a planned bus rapid transit station. In July 2013, Fresno was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Endowment to support the Mariposa Plaza Activation Project. The plaza redesign will include public art and cultural events and is expected to serve as a local gathering place, bringing foot traffic, business, and life back to the Fulton Mall.

Expanding the Value-Added Food Sector

In addition to the downtown revitalization efforts, the SC2 team’s other primary stream of work was leveraging the existing hub of agricultural activities in the surrounding area to advance Fresno’s economy.

  • One of the Department of Agriculture’s team members served a large role in moving this vision forward. As a heavily involved team member, he helped the city attain funding from an IBM Challenge Grant to advance the connection between technology and agriculture. He pursued broadband in the downtown area and worked on establishing technology for remote sensors for water and pesticide use on agricultural farm locations within Fresno.
  • The SC2 team provided technical assistance to the city that contributed to the city’s receipt of a $95,000 grant for Investment Assistance from the Economic Development Administration to “expand Fresno’s value-added food sector by developing an existing industrial area into a food-processing cluster.”
  • Local partner Wells Fargo bank received technical assistance from the SC2 team to help fine tune its thinking about how to best support economic development through food systems-related projects. Full-time team members, city staff, and Wells Fargo staff collaborated to create three committees to determine the best way to advance food-system-related economic development work: a public market committee, an urban farm/community garden committee, and a small business/kitchen incubator committee. Team members brought a new energy and attention to the work being done and helped make connections between this work at Wells Fargo and other aligned city efforts.

Ad Hoc Technical Assistance

The SC2 team also provided assistance with more discrete tasks in other areas. The SC2 team supported the establishment of a mini-MBA program for local small business owners. In addition, the HUD team member helped the city to access RAD designation (HUD’s special designation for housing authorities). The housing authority can now borrow against federally owned housing projects to fund improvements, rather than being forced to allow housing to deteriorate over time because the city otherwise would not be able put more resources into improvements. One team member helped to further Fresno’s goals related to neighborhood revitalization by identifying a new grant opportunity, the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program. The member encouraged the city to pursue this grant opportunity and assisted by bringing together more than a dozen public, nonprofit, and philanthropic stakeholders to apply for the grant. The city’s application was successful, and Fresno has been able to expand its existing neighborhood revitalization pilot into two additional neighborhoods.

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