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Cultural Arts Park adds glow to Downtown rebirth

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Food trucks, live music, enthusiastic Fresnans and a handful of two-minute speeches (120 seconds max – honest!) brought the city’s newest public park to life on Thursday.

The Cultural Arts Park is open for business.

“It’s going to be the first interactive park in all of Central California, so we’re excited to host that here in Downtown Fresno,” Mayor Ashley Swearengin told the early evening crowd.

“I just want to say a quick word, first of all to all of you who have been asking and begging and pleading for this park space in the Downtown area: Thank you for your advocacy and thank you for being patient and thank you for pushing us to get to this point, where we get to turn these lights on tonight. Many of you who live in the area have looked at a dirt field for a little while, (you were) like ‘Are you kidding me? Please hurry and get the park done.’ So, here we are today.”

The park is on the northwest corner of Fulton and Calaveras streets in the Cultural Arts District, north of Fulton Corridor. It’s a pocket park, about three-quarters of an acre of green space and high-tech lights and traditional park amenities. Much of the estimated cost of $1.75 million was covered by state grants.

This park was a long time coming, so long that, as Swearengin noted, the genesis goes back to the era of former City Manager Mark Scott. She had plenty of people to thank, among them District 3 Council Member Oliver Baines, City Manager Bruce Rudd, Parks Director Manuel Mollinedo, the Parks Department, Downtown Fresno Partnership and Sacramento.

Downtown has green space. There’s Courthouse Park, of course, and Eaton Plaza next to the library. But this is the first park in the area that some call the Mural District.

The new park is another step in the rebirth of Fresno’s urban core, the Mayor said.

“It wasn’t that long ago when we were having this great big debate in our city as to whether or not we even needed a downtown. How many of you remember that debate?” Swearengin said. “We spent year after year, month after month, meeting after meeting, collecting interest and input and getting stakeholders together and really planting a firm stake on this point: That all great cities have great downtowns, and that Downtown Fresno was no exception. And for us to achieve our vision and our goals for the future we had to have a vibrant downtown once again. This project is a part of that vision. I want to thank all of you for standing firm with us as we have fought hard to see reinvestment come back to the urban core of Fresno.

“With that, let me step aside and let the festivities continue.”

The crowd responded with cheers, applause and shouts of “Thank you!”

Baines was next to the microphone.

“I want to echo the sentiment of our mayor,” he said. “I can remember talking with Bruce about the concept of this park probably two-and-a-half, three years ago. And the wonderful thing is it has evolved over the years into what you see here.”

Baines described the park’s design as “cutting edge,” saying the site will be a dynamic addition to a “flourishing downtown.”

Baines said he had a chat with developer Cliff Tutelian, who is especially active Downtown.

“He told me that it’s time for Fresno to put on a suit and get away from the boots and the jeans – it’s time for us to raise our level of expectations,” Baines said. “And this is where we are right now. This will be a state of the art, premiere attraction here in our Downtown, and we are really, really excited. I can’t thank the citizens, the staff, the Mayor enough for making this come true.”

District 1 Council Member Esmeralda Soria was there, but didn’t speak. She is one of the Parks Department’s biggest supporters at City Hall.

Lilia Chavez, executive director of the Fresno Arts Council, did speak.

“This is truly an exciting evening. Arts and parks – that sounds really good,” Chavez said. “Fresno is truly on the path of great things, and one of those great things is the arts community.”

Chavez said Fresno is blessed with a broad and talented arts community.

“We look forward to more opportunities for arts and parks in the community,” Chavez said. “But most of all we’re grateful, we’re truly grateful, for all the time and talent and energy that went into creating a more vibrant Downtown.

“As an artist, I understand that you have an idea and that idea only becomes wonderful after a lot of hard work — a lot of hard work and tenacity. As a result of hard work and tenacity, we have this beautiful park today. Thank you (to) everyone who did the work to make it happen.”

ArtHop was in full swing, Thursday being the first Thursday of a new month. I took a walk along Fulton, from the new park to the Tioga-Sequoia brewing company’s beer garden at Inyo.

I saw a lot of people, a lot of cars, a lot of lights, a lot of activity (including night work on the Fulton Street restoration project).

Then I took FAX Bus No. 30 home.

The Mayor, Baines, Chavez and the other speakers who believe in the power of brevity are right – Downtown is on the way back.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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