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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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.