Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Can Manchester Center Mall be saved?

Built in 1955, Manchester Center Mall was Fresno's first foray into the suburban enclosed mall template*. Three and a half miles north of downtown, the Mall promised ample parking and an escape from the weather. The concept was indeed successful, and the mall expanded as the decades went by.

Well, for awhile anyway. Fresno kept expanding north (Fashion Fair opened in 1970), and Manchester Center was left behind. What was once the edge of the city became the inner city. As popularity waned, so did the investment. By the mid-90s, the mall was in serious trouble. And in 2009, when Gottschalks (139,500 square feet) closed, it was left with only Sears (186,000 square feet) as an anchor and a handful of stores catering to lower incomes.

*See the comment section for clarification

(You can learn the full history of the Center in this excellent post).

While Sears is no longer a choice retailer, their Manchester location is successful and not in danger of closing.

Since then, the question has been: What's next? Even though many urbanists are not fans of enclosed malls, having 640,000 sqft of leasable space rotting in the geographic center of Fresno would be tragic. Demolishing and replacing with dense housing and modern retail makes for a great dream, but is not feasible in Fresno's current economic climate.

Fortunately, over the past two or three years, we have heard that big changes are coming.
A new company is preparing to renovate Fresno’s nearly dead Manchester Mall. Omninet is asking the city for a small section of land to increase the appeal of the struggling shopping center.
KVPR - May 12, 2015

A year later, nothing had changed.

Retail on the first floor, mostly empty office space on the 2nd.


In fact, there had been some regression.

As the website proudly proclaimed:

The International Food Court is located at the South end of the Center on the Second Level and includes:
     Dairy Queen/Orange Julius

Yup. That's the food court. A single Dairy Queen / Orange Julius store. The two other food locations that were open last year had closed (the pretzel stand in the middle of the mall remains).

The sad state of the food court



NPR investigated:


About a year ago, Valley Public Radio uncovered a website from the property management company Omninet Capital selling a vision of a newly remolded and revitalized Manchester Center Mall including this slick video.
...
Nazarian says the company is ready to invest a handsome sum in Manchester but when pressed he declined to say how much the company is willing to spend or how long they are committed to the project.
KVPR - April 26, 2016

 Until about a couple of month ago, when real renovation plans were announced

Life for Fresno’s aging Manchester Center is about to get a lot better.
The mall owners, Omninet Capital based in Beverly Hills, and Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced on Monday long-awaited plans to transform what was once Fresno’s premier shopping destination into a new unique multi-use property in the heart of the city.

The plans include a new mall entrance, a redesigned facade with signage, a marketplace or “artisan food community” for chefs, food trucks and restaurants, an exterior shopping area and an outdoor events plaza. There will soon be new tenants too. Among them: Chipotle and The Habit in a new building on Blackstone Avenue, and nearly a handful of local restaurants (so far) in the marketplace – Green’s Family Grill, Med Wraps Cafe, Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats & Brew, and Yummyz Street Treats.

The mall renovation, at Blackstone and Shields avenues, will happen over the course of a few years with the first phase to be finished by spring 2017.

Nazarian said Monday that the goal is to have retail stores occupy the mall’s first floor and offices on the second floor. The marketplace will be located in the old Gottschalks space. A new outdoor event plaza will be built on the existing parking lot between the marketplace and Regal Manchester Stadium 16 cinemas.
Fresno Bee

Some fantastic news, but also some tidbits that make me worry.