Gavin Newsom puts $250M in budget to revitalize downtown Fresno. How Dyer plans to spend it

Fresno is set to receive $250 million in infrastructure money from the state of California as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May budget revision announced Friday, and Mayor Jerry Dyer hailed it as “an investment that will transform the downtown area forever.”

“We have a particular focus in the May Revise on the incredible work that’s been done in Fresno,” Newsom said, “and the incredible planning that has been done that allows us to make a commitment to Fresno, in particular, to accelerate that effort because they are teed up and ready to do something transformational.”

In a press conference Friday afternoon at Fresno City Hall, Dyer thanked Newsom “for his belief and confidence in the city of Fresno” and outlined how the city expects to spend the money – if the budget proposal is ultimately approved by legislators in Sacramento.

“Far too long Fresno has been left behind, as has the Valley, …” Dyer said. “This is the largest investment we will have ever received from state of California, and it’s all going into downtown Fresno.”

Dyer said downtown was the focus of the city’s request to Newsom since the governor announced his goal in August 2022 of making about $2 billion – a combination of state and federal money – available for infrastructure across the state.

“We knew the need was downtown Fresno, based on accelerating housing for the downtown area as well as knowing that downtown Fresno is really the hub for central California,” Dyer said.

Dyer told reporters that he and his staff met with representatives of Newsom’s staff numerous times since August 2022. Those meetings, he added, “were very productive and provided us with a path forward.”

How Fresno plans to spend the money

“Great cities have great downtowns,” Dyer added. “We can’t say we’re a great city if we don’t have a great downtown, and that’s where we need to invest.”

One of the largest chunks of money, about $70 million, would be used to provide two new parking structures in the downtown area, adding 2,000 more parking stalls, almost doubling the existing 2,081 city-owned parking stalls in the area. The cost of parking structures “is always a big challenge or us when we try to bring in developers to build housing,” Dyer said. “Taking that off the table allows for these projects not only to occur faster, but it allows the developers to be more incentivized to build in our downtown area.”

Housing developers face a requirement in downtown to provide parking for their projects at a rate of half a stall per residential unit, “but in reality you need one parking stall per unit,” Dyer added. “This will give us 2,000 parking stalls, and that would support 2,000 to 3,000 units downtown.”

Additional earmarks that Dyer has for the state money include:

  • $80 million for overall infrastructure investments aimed at promoting the development of housing for 10,000 residents and revitalizing neighborhoods in downtown.

  • $25 million for a stormwater drainage basin in the downtown area.

  • $20 million for an intermodal transit center to promote alternative transportation, including buses, bicycles and other ways to get around instead of driving.

  • $20 million for improvements to streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters in downtown Fresno and the nearby Chinatown district.

  • $15 million for the development of green space such as pocket parks or linear parks.

  • $10 million for sewer system upgrades along Fresno and Merced streets downtown.

  • $10 million for a 16-inch water supply loop along H Street and F Street between Stanislaus and Mono streets.

All of those plans represent the start in a chain of efforts with the goal of enabling residential development in the downtown area and not simply relying on a concentration of daytime workers from government agencies and offices and in the district.

“We’re doing to accelerate infrastructure downtown so that we can accelerate housing downtown, so that we can accelerate a vibrant nightlife in downtown Fresno,” Dyer said. “We want people moving to the downtown area. That’s going to require housing, and housing is going to require infrastructure..”

“Housing is what makes a downtown vibrant,” he added. “It is that balance of daytime jobs in government offices as well as the people living there that will generate a constant vibrancy in downtown. That means a lot of activity.”

Significant investments required in downtown

The $20 million earmarked specifically for sewer and water lines in downtown are only part of what will ultimately be needed for a comprehensive overhaul of the aging infrastructure. “We have sewer infrastructure that is as old as 1896 that is still active, and we have water mains that go back to the 1930s,” Brock Buche, the city’s director of public utilities, said Friday. “So the downtown area is in critical need for infrastructure renewal. The timing of this is perfect.”

Buche added that initial estimates of the total cost for needed infrastructure work in downtown “is somewhere in the neighborhood of probably $160 million to $180 million just for water and wastewater.” He said a proposal will be presented to the Fresno City Council on May 25 to hire a consultant to do a thorough study of water and infrastructure needs in downtown Fresno.

Dyer said the city has also submitted an application to the state for another $44 million from a program specifically aimed at supporting infrastructure in infill areas of cities. That money, if Fresno is successful with its effort, would also go toward the downtown area. “If we get both of those, Fresno will be well on its way,” Dyer said, referring to Newsom’s Friday announcement and the state infrastructure grant program.

State Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, said Friday that he was “profoundly grateful that Governor Newsom has included this vital investment for downtown Fresno in his May revise of the State budget.”

“It’s a priority for me to help strengthen and build the economic development of the Central Valley, including its downtowns,” Arambula added in a prepared statement. “The investment in downtown Fresno is especially meaningful for me because I have been working with the City of Fresno and the Central Valley Community Foundation to ensure that Fresno gets its fair share of resources.”

City leaders hope the state’s investment will jump-start efforts to reverse the decades-long deterioration of Fresno’s downtown core. “This will go a long way to restore what has been lost over those years,” Dyer told reporters. “Some of that had to do with urban sprawl, where we know that we ended up with having houses built on our periphery of the city of Fresno and as a result of that, our downtown died.”

“This is our opportunity to revive our downtown,” he added.