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Cameramen and local politicos sprouted up at the corner of Amador and H street overnight. A large tent was assembled and several long tables were lined with fresh croissants and hot coffee. Nancy Osborne from Channel 30 interviewed Mayor Autry while other reporters paired off for interviews with various councilmen and businessmen. Employees at the adjacent ACdelco peeked their heads from their garage and asked each other, jokingly, "Why weren't we invited?"
Granville Homes and Pyramid Homes had assembled the group of local luminaries to celebrate the groundbreaking of "Vagabond Lofts", a mixed-use development project that will feature 38 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space.
"What we're doing is 20% affordable and 80% market rate housing and the Vagabond apartments will have 7 different designs. It'll be a unique place," said Reza Assemi, who spearheaded the project.
Assemi, who has already built one successful downtown loft apartment complex, the Pearl Building, was approached by the city about the possibility of redeveloping the site; the former home of the Vagabond Motel. Reza convinced Granville Homes and Pyramid Homes, both operated by the Assemi family, to collaborate on a design and fund the project. According to the Fresno Bee, a total of $900,000 was also contributed by local government agencies- agencies that are trying to lure more investors and developers downtown.
"We're seeking out infill, adaptor, re-use and mixed use developments," said Michael Sigala, Housing and Community Development Manager for the city of Fresno. "We want individuality and diversity -- that's the fabric of a community."
While the local press and politicians seemed excited about the groundbreaking- Vagabond Lofts is the first new housing to be built downtown in the last 25 years- some local employees and activists expressed reservations.
Stacey Byers, an employee at Fresno Rubber Stamp on H street said, "I don't care what they do, as long as it doesn't affect the parking situation."
And while parking in this neighborhood is ample during the evenings, Amador and H streets often become congested during work hours. Employees from several local businesses often line H street and Amador for several blocks with their parked cars. The current Vagabond plan calls for 38 apartments and only 39 parking spots to be built. Developers are usually required to build 1.5 parking spots for each unit, but in downtown there are no parking requirements.
"It's on the short end of what we normally do," commented Sigala. "They did the minimum and hopefully some people who live there won't have cars. It's very hard to accommodate everything with this sort of development."
Assemi is also trying to anticipate the growth of traffic in the neighborhood.
"Well, there are 39 tenant-only spots ... but we are also putting in diagonal parking on Amador and adding greenspaces. We aim to beautify it and increase the amount of parking," said Assemi.
With several other projects looming for the uptown neighborhood, including the expansion of the Fresno Met (it aims to consume a whole city block), the building of a new headquarters for the County Library (which plans to fill an adjacent block on fulton), and the 2 block "Broadway Row" development, a lack of parking and other infrastructure may soon become a larger issue for the growing neighborhood.
Brady Bowen, a documentary filmmaker who mounted a campaign to save the Vagabond Hotel and its world-renowned skating pool from demolition, also expressed some discontent with the project. Last April, Bowen argued before the City Council that the pool was a landmark that should have been preserved.
"I don't think me or any of the skaters ever thought it was a bad idea to tear down the hotel. The pool though, Reza, Granville and the city acted very hastily with their decision. The pool was a real sense of community for many," commented Bowen. "[They] took a small piece of culture and community away from the rest of the world but decided to keep the name and the retro sign."