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Old Hotel Could Be Another Apartment Complex In Downtown Fresno

Fresno’s Cultural Arts District might get another apartment complex.

The developer of this one would be the Fresno Housing Authority. The project would be 100% affordable housing.

Might we be seeing a new development strategy for a pivotal Downtown neighborhood that has been quiet of late on the new construction front?

According to documents at City Hall, the Housing Authority wants to turn the Econo Inn motel at 1828 Broadway into a complex focused on permanent housing for low-income families.

The motel is north of Amador Street and across the street from the Vagabond Lofts.

Econo Inn currently has 32 units, one of them for an on-site manager. The Housing Authority’s plan is to remodel the facility from top to bottom, reducing the number of units to 26, one of them for an on-site manager. Three of the new units, according to city documents, would be compatible for tenants with disabilities. Each unit would have a kitchenette.

“The Econo Inn project is in alignment with the City of Fresno’s 2015-2019 Consolidated Plan with its aims of increasing affordable housing in areas of transit access and job opportunity, and economic revitalization,” says a city document.

The proposed project is in the early stages of the permitting process. My review of the public documents didn’t reveal a name for the remodeled complex.

“The project is intended to set a new standard in a neighborhood that has very little multi-family stock,” says a city document.

The current Econo Inn’s structure and footprint look like a typical motel built relatively soon after World War II. The two-story building is box-shaped. There’s just one entrance, from Broadway, into a parking lot/courtyard. The door of each unit faces the courtyard. There is no swimming pool.

The remodeled building would retain the same footprint.

Says a city document: “Once complete, the design of the property will allow for high visibility of the common space and entryways. The presence of on-site property management staff and maintenance staff will help keep relevant authorities informed of activities within the complex.”

I reviewed the project file on Monday. I saw nothing to suggest a price per unit or a construction timeline. But what I did review sparked some thoughts.

Will the Housing Authority decorate one of complex’s exterior walls? After all, the Cultural Arts District is also called (for good reason) the Mural District.

The interior courtyard is slated to have 14 parking spots. Will the complex’s vehicular entrance be gated? I’ve been to enough of Chief Dyer’s Crime View news conferences to know that the Cultural Arts District has suffered through occasional car-theft sprees. It seems that all of the newer lofts projects in the neighborhood are gated.

I had no idea that the Cultural Arts District is plagued by a lack of multi-family housing stock, particularly for low-income renters. I thought just the opposite is the case. The neighborhood during a recent 10-year period exploded with new two-story residential projects. Most were built by the Assemi family. Most received substantial public assistance from the old Redevelopment Agency. Because the public purse was so generous, those projects were required by contract to have a good number of “affordable” units.

The old RDA is gone. Near as I can tell, the Assemi family’s residential development ambitions have moved on to other neighborhoods. Yet, the Cultural Arts District still contains a number of in-fill development opportunities. It appears that Downtown revitalization hasn’t reached the point where market-rate rental housing is embraced by the private sector. For instance, plans for the long-delayed restoration of the vacant Hotel Fresno building just to the south of the Cultural Arts District have evolved from a mix of market-rate and affordable residential rentals to 100% of the latter. Some other well-connected and dynamic developer must fill the hole left by the RDA/Assemi tandem if the Cultural Arts District is to continue its transformation.

The Fresno Housing Authority is definitely a well-connected, dynamic and talented developer of housing units. But does City Hall see the Authority as the new leader in the Mural District’s developmental future? I’m guessing the answer is no. I’m guessing City Hall sees the Housing Authority as a worthy and honored complement to the developmental dynamic, but not the bell cow.

But at this point, if not the Housing Authority, what?

Answering those questions obviously is part of Mayor Lee Brand’s job. The challenge also belongs to the District 3 council member who represents the Cultural Arts District. That would be Miguel Arias.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is a contributor to The San Joaquin Valley Sun.

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