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A Better Blackstone: Expert’s Recommendations on Building Corridor Business

Last week, the Better Blackstone Association, in association with the Fresno Metro Ministry held seminars for local residents and business owners at Fresno City College to discuss how to improve small business opportunities on Blackstone Avenue. Leading the discussion at the meetings  was Michele Reeves, a project consultant and urban strategist from Portland, Oregon with extensive experience in revitalizing mixed-use districts.

Keith Bergthold, Executive Director of Fresno Metro Ministry

Keith Bergthold, Executive Director of Fresno Metro Ministry

The City of Fresno has grown to a occupy over 520,000 residents. Over the years, as the population has grown, the city size has expanded as well. Fresno currently sprawls over 112 square miles. Blackstone Avenue has been a part of the city since the 1800’s and has evolved over the years. According to Wikipedia, Blackstone got it’s name when residents jokingly referred to the street as Blackstone after the English legal scholar William Blackstone due to the number of lawyers living there.

From the 1930’s through the 1980’s, Blackstone was considered part of state route Highway 41. Cars and trucks used Blackstone as the route through central Fresno to Yosemite and the coast before the current Highway 41 was built.

So what is Blackstone Avenue today? According to Keith Bergthold, Executive Director of Fresno Metro Ministry, Blackstone Avenue is the “Spine of Fresno” and a vital part of Fresno Revitalization. Bergthold showed meeting attenders city maps of Fresno. The more you look at areas of poverty in our city the more often you see a lack of businesses and institutions in those places as well. With that being said, the goal is to rebuild Blackstone one business at a time.

The Better Blackstone Association calls Blackstone Avenue “A critical path for Fresno’s Future.” saying that it “has the potential to help define or defeat the achievement of economic, environmental and social health and prosperity for Fresno.”

Blackstone Avenue (along with Ventura-Kings Canyon Blvd) will be the launch corridor for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Fresno, an improved transit system scheduled to begin operating in early 2017. Blackstone was also designated as a mixed-use area in the City of Fresno 2035 General Plan.  The City of Fresno has designated Blackstone as a “Priority Area for Development Incentives”.

A tweet from Michele Reeves while touring Blackstone. She believes Blackstone's Historic Buildings are it's biggest asset.

A tweet from Michele Reeves while touring Blackstone. She believes Blackstone’s Historic Buildings are it’s biggest asset.

 

An old auto repair garage transformed into a burger restaurant.

An old auto repair garage transformed into a burger restaurant.

With all the momentum the city is providing, bringing an expert like Reeves to Blackstone was a brilliant and logical next step. After touring Blackstone, she stated that while many may think that strongest part of Blackstone is the northern part, where River Park is, she sees the most value in the southern part of Blackstone because of the “uniqueness, historic buildings, and collection of businesses” present there. She offered several practical ways to bring life to the southern part of Blackstone through business and showed real life examples of building transformations she has witnessed in other cities.

Pictured Right: These are photos taken of Reeves’ slide show presentation demonstrating the way buildings can be transformed and re purposed. The building was formerly an auto repair garage. It was transformed into a restaurant that has become very popular.

 

An old abandoned building transformed into the Portland Mercado, a multi-use market with outdoor food carts

An old abandoned building transformed into the Portland Mercado, a multi-use market with outdoor food carts

Pictured Left: More photos taken from Reeves’ slideshow presentation. These show an abandoned and forgotten building transformed to a bright, lively Hispanic cooperative market selling food and other items. To the Parking lot, they added several semi-permanent food carts for food vendors and a covered outdoor seating area for outdoor dining.

Both of these examples demonstrate how seemingly uninteresting buildings can be transformed by accentuating the architecture of the building through color, creating openness and transparency. More details about how to recreate and rethink a building space can be found below.

 

 

 

Reeves’ recommendations for starting or improving businesses on Blackstone Avenue:

1. When defining how a business should look, work backward from the building’s existing, authentic identity.

There are many interesting and historic buildings throughout Blackstone.  Leveraging existing buildings begins with finding what’s interesting about them, and highlighting that. This should be done on both the inside and the outside of the business. For retailers, getting more business and keeping it starts with creating an experience for the customer.

2. Improve the inside of businesses by creating an open, inviting experience:

Photo from Reeves' slide show presentation: This thrift store has created an inviting place to show through exposed brick, high ceilings and natural lighting.

Photo from Reeves’ slide show presentation: This thrift store has created an inviting place to shop through exposed brick, high ceilings and natural lighting.

  • Remove dark UV coating on windows.
  • Remove Acoustic Tiles and false ceilings, and expose roof structure, high ceilings, and beams.
  • As much as possible, remove fluorescent lights. Natural lighting is important for the retail experience.
  • Proper window structure and displays should have lights that are repositionable to help reduce mirror reflection that happens on sunny days or during certain times of the day.

 

 

3. Invite consumers to your business by creating transparency and an inviting outdoor appearance:

Photo from Reeves' slide show presentation: Example of inviting outdoor space.

Photo from Reeves’ slide show presentation: Example of inviting outdoor space.

  • Add color to accentuate the details of the building.
  • Reeves recommends three different colors on the outside of your building.
  • Create lighting at night: string lights, tree lighting, accent lighting on murals.
  • Create transparency from the outside, let people see inside your business.
  • For restaurants add tables, and chairs and create welcoming seating areas outside.
  • For stores, bring things outside, staging merchandise to draw attention.
  • Soften parking lots and sidewalks with landscaping.
  • Blur the lines between the inside and outside using roll-up doors, or lots of windows.

4. Ways to  deter / prevent crime:

  • Creating Transparency – if people can see in your windows, you can see out of them as well. Crime happens when people think they can’t be seen.
  • Create good lighting at night.
  • Crime goes away when there’s people. Create an environment where people want to hang out.
  • When putting items outside, think strategically about how they can be affixed so they cannot be taken.
  • Get neighboring businesses to work together. If everyone is on the same page, it will make a more of an impact.

 

About Jenni Solla

Jenni and her family have lived in Fresno since 2010. Jenni believes that Fresno is not only a great place to live, but has also seen it grow and improve over the years she's lived here. Together with her husband Nathan, she is a founding partner at WorldLight Media LLC, a creative web design and marketing firm that has been in business for over 12 years and is headquartered in Fresno. Nathan and Jenni have two children, Their oldest is 13 and has been diagnosed with Autism. Their youngest is 10 years old. Things Jenni loves about Fresno: The sunshine, traffic (or lack there of), the small town feel combined with the big city conveniences, the local food, and her church.

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