Will housing succeed in Downtown Stockton? It’s working in Fresno

 

Fresno, for all intents and purposes, is a larger version of Stockton. Similar socioeconomic challenges, climate, and cost of living. The same can be said of both city’s downtowns. Both feature rich architectural history, but have been besieged by empty buildings and blight. Given these similarities, Stockton compares much more closely to Fresno than an Oakland or Sacramento. It seems reasonable that success in one city could translate to the other to a certain degree, so you can imagine my reaction when I witnessed nearly fully leased, mixed-use and vibrant residential communities in downtown Fresno recently. While I and many of my colleagues that work on downtown know that there is a very strong demand for downtown Stockton residential, seeing it in practice in a similar market like Fresno provides indisputable proof that Central Valley residents will eagerly occupy urban infill development.

Last Thursday, I paid a visit to Downtown Fresno for the first time ever to attend an affordable housing summit. And while I was there primarily to discuss issues facing affordable housing in the Central Valley, I could not help but notice the proliferation of mixed-use, dense urban housing lining Fulton Street as I drove into downtown. I spent part of my day exploring these projects, and as I wondered the Mural District—as this part of downtown is called—I was pleasantly surprised to see a variety of new housing and occupied retail fronts in an area that was fairly desolate not too long ago.

My conversations with the leasing agents at two of these properties left me even more impressed. A new residential development of three story townhomes and apartments called The Lede was nearing completion, and only a handful of units remained with renters putting down deposits on units that weren’t even complete yet. Another project—the Iron Bird Lofts—had no vacancy at all.

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The Iron Bird Lofts opened in 2008 and are at full occupancy (about 100 units)

Of course, I had a ton of questions. What are the rental rates? From $825 to about $1,500 a month, depending on unit size/mix. They also require tenants to bring in a monthly income of at least three times their rental rates. What about parking? Units come with assigned spots, and any additional cars find easy street parking. What about crime? Not an issue, outside of the occasional car break in.

The source of all of this development comes not from an innovative urban infill company specializing in downtown revitalization, but from a traditionally suburban developer. Specifically, Granville Homes—which is responsible for a significant amount of Fresno’s suburban development—has actually been the pioneer in downtown housing for that region as well.

I have to admit, I was skeptical. Most suburban developers scoff at the idea of diversifying their portfolios with urban infill. But it appears that not only has Granville taken the plunge, but it has been swimmingly successful. According to the leasing agents I spoke to, one of the Granville family children was able to convince his parents that investing in Downtown Fresno was a worthwhile endeavor. And it appears that he was correct.

Since 2008, Granville has built over 500 new units in the Mural District with occupancy rates in the 90s, and they continue to build more. And these units are not in towering high rises, but more modest two and three story structures across nearly 20 different buildings within a relatively small footprint. This has led to an attractive neighborhood scale while still achieving decent densities.

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While I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetics of some projects on Fulton, their scale and design are sensible and fit in well in an urban environment.

Retailers appear to be taking hold as well. As I strolled down Fulton, I passed a poke shop, a barber, and a yoga studio, among others. In fact, one of their “live work” units (three story buildings where individuals live in the top two floors while running their business out of the bottom floor) were mostly occupied, even with rents approaching $3,000 a month.

Needless to say, my trip down Fulton Street left me inspired for a couple of reasons. First, if Fresno has found a demand for downtown housing, there is absolutely no reason why there is not a similar demand in Stockton. The demographics are very similar, as are construction costs and other factors. And Granville has succeeded even with fairly high rents (compared to other areas of the city).

Second, the fact that a suburban developer found a way to accomplish quality infill development gives me optimism that perhaps our suburban developers could also one day invest in our downtown. While my company (Ten Space) is pioneering Downtown Stockton development, it’s my sincere hope that we won’t be alone. We need other experienced developers to come downtown. Like I tell people, if we’re still the only ones developing new projects in downtown in a couple of years, then that means we aren’t successful.

 

 

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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Chief Operating Officer at Ten Space in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

3 Comments on “Will housing succeed in Downtown Stockton? It’s working in Fresno”

  1. IBelieveinDowntownFresno
    August 23, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

    Great article regarding the successes of Downtown Fresno. I believe that Downtown Stockton has great potential to be just as successful. It is vital for all of our downtowns throughout our Central Valley to have vibrant areas to congregate and be proud of. As with Downtown Sacramento, I believe Downtown Fresno has the potential to rival their downtown one day. Within our downtown is Chukchansi Park (home of AAA Fresno Grizzlies MLB affiliate to the Houston Astros), the potential to build a USL Pro soccer stadium for our Fresno Fuego & Freeze men’s/women’s soccer team, Selland Arena for possible AHL hockey for our Fresno Monsters or the now defunct Fresno Falcons, and so much more. Fulton Mall is now undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation to turn it into Fulton Street, tech companies and hubs opening up left and right in downtown’s core, high-rises being occupied by ambitious start ups and established companies believing in our downtown, and anything unique you could possibly think of, but it is still unique FRESNO. We Fresnans are proud of our city and our downtown and are slowly, but steadily making the large effort to create a vibrant core area for the people of the Central San Joaquin Valley. I envision additional high-rises in the future, our future Fresno Public Market, expansion of Bitwise Industries’ tech campus and possibly a mixture of university-centric downtown center programs that will continue to partner with Fresno State, Fresno Pacific, and UC Merced. With Community Regional Medical Center expanding its medical campus alongside UCSF Fresno Medical, there will be additional buildings that will cater to our downtown core. Nearby Mural District and Tower District (in addition to newer parts such as SoYo and the Packing District as well as the High Speed Rail Station District) contribute to unique parts of our downtown. In addition, the rehabilitation of Fresno’s Chinatown, we will continue to offer a unique experience for all of our residents and visitors. I’ve missed so much other things that Downtown Fresno currently offers and has in store for the near future, but that just goes to show you how amazing our downtown is and will be. I can’t wait to see 5-10 story condominiums (the current Pacific Towers offers high-end lofts overlooking the Chuk with plans to open a high-end restaurant at the top of the tower) in the distant future. Exciting times for our downtown and Fresno in general with the Fresno Chaffee Zoo constantly making improvements and expanding as well as the planned Fresno Aquarium featuring regional aquatic life among other things. With HSR starting right here in Fresno, our downtown rail station will provide jobs and a destination for visitors and residents to see what we have to offer. Here’s to a vibrant Central Valley for all of us.

  2. walt
    August 24, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    One way Fresno differs from Stockton is that it doesn’t have a large portion of its residents commuting to the Bay Area.

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  1. Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog California - August 24, 2016

    […] New housing is transforming downtown Fresno—can Stockton be next? (Stockton City Limits) […]

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