Thursday, June 18, 2015

United abandons JFK - What does it mean for transit at Newark?

While most of my posts related to airlines have been connected to High Speed Rail discussion, I do like to follow aviation news. A couple of days ago, United announced that they would abandon JFK airport in New York and "retreat" to their fortress hub at Newark (EWR). This came as a big shock to many following the industry, because JFK is typically considered the premiere airport for the New York region, and NYC, of course, is the business capital of the continent.

Plenty has been written about what it means for the aviation world (alliance partners, connections, fares etc.), but personally, I am more interested in what it means for transit at Newark International.

One can argue all day about which airport is most convenient to Manhattan, and quite frankly, there's no winning argument. By road (via yellow or black car) which airport is most accessible to Manhattan corporate headquarters depends on the day of the week, the time of the day, and how many collisions happen along the way. With zero traffic, they're equidistant, but it's New York City, and there's never zero traffic.

That of course, is one of the main advantages of transit. Assuming proper funding, transit can provide something a car cannot: proper trip planning. When you plan on taking a car to the airport, you need large amounts of buffer time to account for traffic. If there is no traffic, congrats, you're wasting valuable time at the gate. If there's too much traffic, you miss your flight. With a train on the other hand, you can more easily plan your trip with a schedule, from the office door to TSA line, down to the minute.

United of course understand how important accessibility is to their customer base. From their press release:
Manhattan business travelers, particularly those who work on Wall Street and throughout lower and western Manhattan, enjoy easy access to Newark Liberty, the most convenient of the three New York-area airports.
Again, by car, it depends. But by transit? They're correct, thanks to the 24/7 PATH subway line, which links the World Trade Center and Wall Street to Newark Penn Station.

PATH, you say? United? Where I heard those two together before?

In talks with United Airlines, the Christie representatives have suggested that they would direct the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to begin a long-contemplated extension of the PATH train to Newark's airport rail station, providing a long-desired direct rail link with Lower Manhattan, these people said.

In exchange, these people say Mr. Christie, via Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, has asked United to provide service to a slate of cities from Atlantic City—a small airport with a spotty track record of supporting commercial service. United is the dominant airline at the Newark airport, carrying about 70% of the passengers.
September 2013, WSJ

The rest of the article claims that United would not serve Atlantic City, because they don't really care about PATH. That was September, 2013.

And yet in that November, United did announce service to Atlantic City, from Chicago and Houston. And shortly after that, the PATH extension suddenly gained a lot more traction. (Those flights have since ended)

That wasn't the only trade United made to get the PATH extension funded.
Were the friendly skies of United a little too friendly to former Port Authority Chairman David Samson? Elected officials, airline watchdogs and even Samson's successor say they are concerned by reports that United Airlines and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have been subpoenaed for records involving Samson's travel from Newark to an airport near his home in South Carolina.

United launched the service in September 2012, after Samson became chairman in early 2011. It then dropped the three weekly flights by its ExpressJet regional subsidiary three days after Samson resigned last March amid an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark prompted by the September 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures.

That means each flight averaged just under 25 passengers, or a 50 percent booking rate, well below the rate of 85 percent or higher common among carriers. Flying that kind of route for 19 months just doesn't make sense, unless short-term ticket sales are not what you're after, said Kate Hanni, founder of California-based fliersrights.org.

"No airline would continue a flight that was regularly half full, unless it was receiving government subsidies," Hanni said. "If not subsidized, then United was operating a flight that was losing money, again airlines don't continue flights that are burning a hole in their pocket unless they have someone important of great influence on board."
NJ.com

Connecting the dots together, what has happened here is clear. United has known for a long time that they were going to leave JFK and focus on Newark. United also knew that the only way to do so and continue to be successful is to convince people that Newark is the most convenient airport from Manhattan.

Today, it's debatable. But with a PATH extension, it wouldn't be.

United has proven that they can't really compete on price or service with the rest of the industry. Jetblue, for example, offers an extremely attractive premium product at less than half what the dinosaurs charge. They just announced an increase in trips from JFK, as a result of the United move.

However, by consolidating at Newark, United can compete on their large network, and with a PATH extension, on convenience.

Convenience. Convenience is key. And it can be sold at a premium. 

Convenience is so important to United's future business plan that they will lose millions on one flight to cater so a single executive, and millions more in serving an airport that everybody knew had no demand. United was clearly investing in the PATH extension.


Unfortunately for United, it turns out that the PATH extension is a really bad idea for everyone who isn't United, and would cost way too much. As such, momentum slowed, especially after the feds started investigating that special chairman flight.

That doesn't mean United doesn't get what they want though.

It just so happens that as the PATH extension became politically infeasible due to exploding costs, another solution was found.

Earlier this year:

The 19-year-old AirTrain monorail system at Newark Liberty International Airport is being targeted for replacement.

Thursday's authorization votes come four months after the Port Authority issued its first contract for preliminary work to extend the PATH commuter rail system from Newark Penn Station to the airport rail station, a project estimated to cost $1.5 billion.
NJ.com
This announcement reeked. A 19 year old rail system being at end of life? That's unheard of! It's only the end of life if you bring out your shotgun to the shed.

Especially since in 2014 it was closed for 3 months during the peak summer tourist season to undergo a complete refurbishment. Why would they spend all that time and money to refurbish the system if they were looking to get rid of it? Obviously, they weren't and the refurbishment was planned before the PATH extension unfolded, and the organization had to scramble for an alternative. 

Here is what I believe is happening:

The PATH extension is dead. United however, needs better rail. Solution: A brand new, state of the art AirTrain that travels at 40mph, rather than 15mph, can carry more than 4 people per car, and serves the current PATH terminus, Newark Penn, rather than the Airport Rail Station.After all, if the entire system is at "end of life" and has to be replaced anyway, why not just extend the track another mile or so into the existing Newark Penn? If you're spending a billion or so on a brand new system, what's a little extra to add some extra track?

For United-bound travelers, any transit trip from Manhattan requires transferring from rail to AirTrain (also true at JFK). Making that connection at Newark Penn or Newark Airport Rail Station is no different to the air passenger. However, serving Newark Penn rather than Newark Airport Rail does provide significantly more transfer opportunities, as every single NJ Transit and Amtrak train stops there, along with intercity bus carriers and Newark Light Rail, and of course PATH.

And for the Port Authority, extending a light-weight elevated monorail is significantly cheaper than a legacy rail system in a limited right of way.

If you can't bring PATH to AirTrain, you bring AirTrain to PATH. I'd put large sums of money on this being put in motion very soon. 


One problem: United is moving in October. Any new AirTrain would not open until 2018, under a very best case scenario.

United cannot afford to bleed customers in NYC for 3 years. So what can they do?

Easy: Make EWR convenient today, by leveraging existing transit options.

The Lower Manhattan Customer: PATH + Shuttle

Today, PATH terminates at Newark Penn. Passengers going to the airport must either board a local bus ($2.35), which stops at all terminals, or take an NJ Transit train for about 60 seconds, and then transfer to the AirTrain, and pay something like $10 for the privilege of hauling luggage through three different rail systems. That's the opposite of convenience. Not even a railfan would wish for that. The local bus is fine, but let's face it, for most flying passengers, the idea of boarding a local public bus in Newark is not attractive.

But a United branded bus from Newark Penn to the United terminal, free with proof of United ticket? That's not scary at all. Between terminal shuttle buses and rental car shuttle buses, airport shuttle buses are an ingrained part of the airport experience. There's nothing scary about boarding a sleek bus with GIANT UNITED branding on the side, and no need for an additional fare.

That's convenience.

 photo tam_009_zps3yuasher.jpg
An example of a bus used by an Airline company to transfer passengers


The (high end) Midtown Manhattan Customer (and Connecticut!): Amtrak

Today United is the only US airline to offer a code-share agreement, a partnership that has existed exclusively at Newark since it was a Continental Hub.

United Airlines and Amtrak have teamed up to provide the ultimate experience in seamless travel and to offer you the opportunity to earn more award miles. Earn award miles on qualifying Coach or Business class fares per segment on Amtrak when you fly United and make a connection at Newark Liberty International Airport to or from any of the following Amtrak destinations: New Haven Rail Station, CT; Stamford Rail Station, CT; Philadelphia 30th Street Station, PA; Wilmington Rail Station, DE.

 photo neark3_zpsmr65kgug.jpg
Amid an ocean of cancellation, United's partnership with Amtrak stood out clearly before a winter flight.


United Elite passengers can also take advantage of the Acela Clubs at stations such as Boston and New York Penn.

United Club Members with a valid United Club Card are entitled to access ClubAcela locations and may bring in two guests or their spouses and children under the age of 21. United Global First or United BusinessFirst passengers with a flight coupon or boarding pass with a same-day, international segment in United Global First or United BusinessFirst are also entitled to ClubAcela access.
And United even offers a ticketing counter at Penn Station.

All sounds great, except for one little problem: The program hasn't really been looked at in a decade, and the existing form can be more of a hassle, rather than a convenience.

For one, few Amtrak trains stop at EWR. Further, there is a United rule that they will not book you on an Amtrak train that departs/arrives less than 90 minutes before/after your flight, even though the transfer can be done in under 30 minutes.

And finally, the codeshare agreement doesn't include NYC Penn Station!

The problem:

Your high level executive paying $3,000 bucks to fly to LAX is wary about going to Newark from midtown. He does not care for the boarding zoo at NYC Penn. He also is not interested in NJ Transit, because, ew, NJ Transit, and how do you even pay for that when the secretary books your trip?The black car is great, but people keep crashing in the tunnel and missing the flight is simply not an option.

But Amtrak? They're alright. The executive takes that every other week to Boston.

The solution:

Enhance the United partnership with Amtrak to include code-share into NYC Penn Station. There's already Club Acela access with priority boarding, keeping the executive away from the Jersey masses.

And more importantly, work with Amtrak to ensure that the right trains stop at EWR. Again, most trains skip EWR now, and there are large gaps in service. By working together to ensure the schedules work out, so the right trains stop at EWR to get these high rollers onto the LAX flight, EWR has become infinity more convenient than JFK.

In fact, the comparison is no longer EWR vs. JFK - it's Penn Station vs JFK, and Penn Station is 3 blocks away. 


The (common) Midtown Manhattan Customer: NJ Transit

That's all great to fill the front of the plane, but how about everyone else?

New Jersey transit already offers service to EWR, but like Amtrak, there's a schedule problem. While all off-peak trains stop at EWR, most trains skip it during rush hour in the peak direction.

See:
 photo newark1_zpsjvdgk9fq.jpg

This again is where coordination could come in. Should every train stop at EWR? No. But if United has 80% of passenger share at EWR, perhaps it's time to take a look at the schedule to make sure the right trains are stopping. You can have 500 trains service the station, but if they all arrive 5 minutes too late for a transfer, it means nothing.

The Queens and Brooklyn customer: NJ Transit..???

There is no question that for any potential United customer east of Manhattan, JFK is closer and more convenient. Period. Getting to EWR via car or transit required diving into Manhattan, and dealing with tunnels and/or multiple transit agencies.

But what if it didn't have to be that way?

NJ Transit currently drives their trains from Penn Station to Sunnyside Queens, where the hang out, loop around, and return when needed.

But unless you have an NJ Transit uniform, that's a ride you can't take.

However, it just so happens that work is underway to build a new LIRR train station in Sunnyside, Queens, right before the yard and loop that NJ Transit uses. That is, once this new station opens, every NJ Transit train is going to slowly roll by the platform.

 photo newark2_zpsanan9pt6.jpg
This future rail station will be conveniently close to a large number of New York subway stops


Imagine if rather than rolling by, the train stopped. And let people board. And then took those people to the Newark AirTrain. One seat. One ticket. From Queens to United check-in in 30 minutes or less!?

Seamless. Convenient.

EWR convenient from Queens, in JFKs back door? It could happen! With coordination and cooperation.

Seems hard to believe right? An American transit agency working to make travel within a metro area convenient? Fantasy!

Fantasy of course, unless there's a giant corporation behind the scenes who would really, really, really, benefit from this type of agreement. The kind of corporation who goes way out of their way to lube up those holding the planning purse with unprofitable flights. Oh, and a NJ Governor ready to throw billions at a PATH extension, and a NY governor who will ignore transit at all cost - unless of course money can be used to make flying easier.


There never seems to be money to make small improvements to transit service, especially for buses. But when it comes to airports, the money flows like champagne. I think there's a good chance United will be pushing for more transit to Newark, and I think our political elites are willing to pay for it.

And at the end of the day, the hardworking schmuck who needs to get to Queens from New Jersey may just come out a winner. Not on purpose of course, but that sure would be nice. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Greyhound moving into Fresno Amtrak station to make way for HSR construction

Due to upcoming High Speed Rail (HSR) construction, Greyhound will be relocating from their own station near Chukchansi Park to a vacant section of the Fresno Amtrak Station. This move is scheduled for later this year, and will remain this way until the new HSR station is constructed, with space for Greyhound. That is, the lease runs for 10 years, but Greyhound is allowed to leave whenever their new waiting area is finished.

Greyhound ticketing and waiting will be kept separate from Amtrak, as can be seen in the site plan:

 photo greyhound3_zpseisfirh9.jpg

The new Greyhound will be fronting Tulare. Because the train station is a historic site, they cannot modify the facade at all, except to add some appropriate signage.

 photo greyhound2_zpsuptrwgua.jpg

Gryehound passengers will probably make use of this empty plaza

 photo greyhound1_zpsxrmdgkd4.jpg

Having a multi-modal terminal will be an asset to passengers leaving from Fresno. Riders will better be able to compare schedules and prices between Gryehound and Amtrak, and also pick another service if their original planned transit provider is experiencing delays or problems. It also opens up transfer possibilities.

While the waiting areas will be separate, Greyhound customers will now be across the street from a new 7-11. This is in contrast to the existing Greyhound station, which sits isolated from all retail. Apparently the Greyhound station used to have a cafeteria, but that has been closed for a very long time. This image shows that the Greyhound Station has existed for many decades, with the Post House Cafeteria on the right (now rotting plywood).

 photo greyhound7_zpsz9yhqiee.jpg
Source 

Another benefit for riders will be taxi service. Rather than being split between the two stations, more taxis will be available at one place.

One question is, where will the buses go?

As you can see in the following aerial, the existing greyhound terminal is a serious bus station, and can fit in 13 buses at gates, with an additional two on the side. Incidentally, the building that says Charter High School is an old train station. It will be preserved by HSR construction. The future  train station will exist over it.

 photo greyhound6_zpsrejfjbny.jpg


However, the Amtrak station has no such bus infrastructure. The agreement with Fresno indicates that Greyhound will be given use of 15 parking spots, but there is no statement as to in which lot.

In the following map, I show some potential loading areas for the bus.

 photo greyhound4_zps72u3rils.jpg

Loading buses at 1 would be very close to the waiting room, and very convenient to Greyhound riders. However, buses idling there would make the Amtrak experience less pleasant, as their waiting area sits right behind the drop-off.

4 is even closer, but it would require removal of parking meters.

3 is the existing Amtrak parking lot, which is almost always at capacity. Would the city really kick out Amtrak customers to allow buses to sit around? It's also quite a walk from the future Greyhound area. To the right of that, there's an even larger surface lot owned by the sits that almost always is empty. That would be great for buses, but again, it's far.

Finally, the city owns a number of surface parking lots in the area, including number 2, north of the tracks. That would be a very short walk from the waiting area, but the problem is that it sits across the track. A slow freight train rolling by could delay buses and passengers by five minutes.

Aside from bus layover logistics, the location is also a downgrade for riders not getting on or off in Fresno. Because the Amtrak station is much further from the 99, all trips will see the addition of up to 10 minutes.

 photo greyhound5_zpstjlcdrtj.jpg

On the other hand, the YARTS trip just got 5 minutes shorter.



Incidentally, if you're curious, the rent will be 85 cents per square foot, which I assume will be significantly cheaper for Greyhound that maintaining their existing depot. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Smart and Final saga concludes: A victory for the Fresno master plan!

I actually began writing this post in early April, and was getting ready to publish under a VERY different title: "Fresno caves on proposed shopping development - goodbye master plan, we barely knew you."

But here we are in June, and what at early glance appeared to be a swift win for a suburban developer, and a loss for the residents of Fresno actually has ended up with a happy ending for all involved, well, almost all. As far as land use planning goes, this was one exciting ride.
 
It all began in mid-March, when the Fresno Bee ran an article on a proposed development on Blackstone and Clinton:
Fresno City Hall is a house divided over a grocery store proposed for Blackstone Avenue. It has come — the first big test for Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s general plan. Who is in Fresno’s development saddle, business as usual or high ideals?

 photo clinton1_zpslj7lomzj.png

The battle was simple: Smart and Final wanted to build a new store, inside the red rectangle above. They wanted to set it up allll the way on the back of the lot, and line Blackstone with acres of asphalt parking. Oh, and a drive-thru fast food restaurant of course. You know, your cookie cutter suburban layout, that design one guy came up with in 1956, the layout which has been reused time and time again, with little or no modification.The same layout, incidentally, that currently exists across the street, where it says Wells Fargo (it's actually a Save Mart supermarket).

But it's not 1956! You see the city of Fresno went through a very lengthy public process which culminated with the January approval of a new general plan, one which puts infill first, and asks for urban design ideals.

And so, following the voice of the people, the city asked Smart and Final if they would consider putting the store along Blackstone, with parking in the back.

The developer said no.

So the city asked if they would put an additional retail building on Blackstone, to create a street-wall.

The developer said no.

You see what the city wanted is what the shiny new general plan had set aside for the area.  The area has been designated as Neighborhood Mixed Use, which means

"local-serving, pedestrian-oriented commercial development, such as convenience shopping and professional offices in two- to three-story buildings. Development is expected to include ground-floor neighborhood retail uses and upper level housing or offices.....the built form will have a scale and character that is consistent with pedestrian-orientation...Automobile-oriented uses are not permitted"

What Smart and Final proposed:

 photo clinton3_zps7tn7qsou.png

  • Pedestrian oriented? NOPE. Massive parking lot with the retail set all the way back.
  • Two to three stories? NOPE. Single story big-box
  • Mixed use? NOPE. Only retail.
  • Banning automobile oriented use? NOPE. Fast food restaurant with wrap-around drive-thru at the prime corner.

So why was this even a fight? After all, if the plan requires the developer follow the rules, how could the developer ask for the exact opposite?

The reason is because the development was set in motion BEFORE the new general plan came into effect! That means it got to follow the old guidelines that have allowed Blackstone to look the way it does.


So Fresno has no legs to stand on, and the developer wins right?

No! Fortunately, way back in on March 26, 1991, the Tower District Specific Plan (PDF) came into being. And while few would stand on Clinton and Blackstone and feel a part of the district, it just so happens that the boundaries extend to that very corner!

The Tower District Specific Plan states that new development must " Eliminate and prevent on-site parking which fronts on major streets and develop urban, in contrast to suburban, standards for provision of on-site parking"

And there it is. The Smart and Final plan, as presented, is not allowed, and hasn't been for twenty years! Oddly enough, this critical detail, about how the new general plan wasn't really at issue, was never brought up by the Fresno Bee in their 4 or 5 articles...


But another problem arises!

The city was ready to allow development with a modification that would meet the Tower plan, but not in any way shape or form meet the new general plan. That is, by adding a second minor retail building on Blackstone, and improving the pedestrian walkway.

 photo clinton4_zpsg1m7fd1l.png

It was at this point, when the above plan appeared close to final, when I was ready to publish under the original title...

That's when things got really political. All this was going on at the planning level, but some of our most enlightened city councilors decided to get involved, long before it would reach their room.

Indeed, Fresno City Council Member Clint Oliver came out guns blazing, with the kind of logic you'd expect from a freshman taking econ 101:

"I always side with the free market. Who knows more about retail, Smart & Final or the city of Fresno?” says Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes the project site. “In a case like this, I always side with the business owner. I always side with the free market.”
Fresno Bee
What Mr. Oliver failed to understand is that his job is to represent the people of Fresno, not the shareholders of Smart & Final. He is correct that the company most likely has more expertise when it comes to moving cheap overstock products, but that's not the question at hand. The job of the planning commission, and then the city council, is to vote on a site plan that affects all of Fresno.

The people of Fresno had at this point spoken time and time again about what they wanted, and it's not more of the same.

Zoning laws, and the planning process which followed, were created because municipalities quickly discovered that the development whims of the individual should not trump the welfare of everyone else.

For example, I am sure Mr. Olivier would reject a proposal for a scrap yard or an oil refinery or a nightclub immediately adjacent to his property. Would he care that the scrap yard people know more about scrap yards than him or the city? Would it matter that the oil people are the authority on oil refining? Would it be relevant that the proposed nightclub management could run the best nightclub in the world?

Of course not, because that kind of development would have a negative impact on him and his neighbors.

One can stroll down Blackstone Avenue to enjoy the fruits of half a century of siding with the free market. Lot after lot of undervalued or dilapidated and abandoned development, built by the free market, and abandoned by the free market, left to the public to clean up the mess.

There is an old, abandoned Happy Steak building at Blackstone/Clinton and a tire shop at Blackstone/Vassar. There are a few houses, at least one empty, and lots of weeds on the site.  (Fresno Bee)
Like most of Blackstone, the lot in question is an eye-sore, a failed development concept. Smart and Final proposes to come in and build in the same style of 50 years ago. That style of development may in fact serve them well, but in fifteen years, when their cheap building begins to rot, and require additional investment, they might simply abandon it and move elsewhere, as the neighboring businesses did.

Mr. Oliver thinks Smart and Final knows better than the people of Fresno, who came to meeting after meeting to demand new development standards. Mr. Oliver forgets who he represents. That is unless, he thinks he represents developer campaign contributions.

Fortunately, the mayor and her team actually listened.

And so a few days before the matter was set to come to vote again, it was tabled, for backroom talks.

That was in April.

May came, and so did some supermarket news for Blackstone:

Two Vons stores in Fresno are set to close June 12, leaving 127 supermarket workers with an uncertain future. The Vons location near Blackstone and Ashlan avenues, as well as the store on Nees Avenue and First Street, were underperforming, confirmed Keith W. Turner, senior communications & government relations manager for Safeway Albertsons. Business Journal

The Blackstone Vons is just a few blocks away from the controversial site.  Another vacant box coming to Blackstone. Why did Vons fail? A new Walmart Center opened a block away - also on Blackstone - just a few months ago. If I recall correctly, Mr. Oliver praised the Walmart for bringing revitalization to Blackstone, and jobs.

Then June arrived, with another bang.

Save Mart is closing its Clinton and Blackstone avenues store, citing competition, the company said Tuesday. The news comes just weeks after Fresno learned it would lose Vons stores near Blackstone and Ashlan avenues and First Street and Nees Avenue.

The Save Mart store is one of a few full-line grocery stores in its neighborhood, and will close June 27. All the store’s 62 employees will be moved to other area Save Marts, said spokeswoman Stacia Hill Levenfeld. Prescriptions at the Save Mart pharmacy will be transferred to the Save Mart at First Street and Bullard Avenue. Save Mart owns the property and a new tenant could already be in the works, but nothing is finalized yet.

Remember the map near the top of the article? The big box with acres of surface parking across from the proposed Smart and Final development? Yup, that's the Save Mart. Indeed, here's the picture of the corner the Bee ran with in March:

 photo clinton2_zpstydv0g9g.jpeg

“Over the last several months the competition has become more intense and we made the decision to close the store,” she said.  City Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district covers the area, said he doesn’t know the retail business well enough to know “if the presence of a Walmart for 90 days can drive an established grocery store three miles away out of business. I think the loss of this Save Mart to the surrounding neighbors is like a one-two punch in the gut,” Olivier said. “We’ve lost Vons and now Save Mart.”
Fresno Bee

So I just had to go back and check...

 On behalf of District Seven, I’m pleased to welcome Walmart to the Blackstone business corridor,” said Clint Olivier, Fresno City Councilman. “Walmart will bring new life to a key corner of the district, bringing convenient shopping options, new jobs and additional customer foot traffic to surrounding businesses. This announcement is just another example of the steps my office has taken to re-energize and improve a very crucial part of our city’s business core.” Walmart


Sounds about right. Claiming credit when Walmart decided to open. Claiming ignorance when two established supermarkets go out of business shortly after. All while claiming that the free market knows best, but are another two vacant storefronts an asset to his district?

And what would this all mean for the Smart and Final project? Would Clint and his supporters claim that anything was better than nothing, even if it went against all the city plans?

But here's the interesting part; Save Mart just so happened to be at the same intersection Smart and Final wanted. And Save Mart just so happened to have the very same outdated layout that Smart and Final craved. And Save Mart was now vacating the premise in 30 days, and looking for a tenant.

A match made in heaven!

A match so perfect, that Mayor Ashley Swearengin had to bring it out during her State of the City address.
At today’s annual State of the City luncheon, Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced Smart & Final has just signed an agreement to open a new store in a building at Blackstone and Clinton avenues currently occupied by Save Mart.
 In fact, the deal was carefully coordinated with Smart and Final

During the mayor’s speech, a spokeperson for Smart & Final actually sent out a press release confirming the deal.
“Smart & Final recently signed a lease for the Clinton and Blackstone space and is currently working with the city of Fresno to finalize details,” the release stated. “We plan to put in a full-size Smart & Final Extra! store which will offer a full produce selection, bulk foods, organic and natural food products and an expanded meat section.”

The Smart & Final announcement’s timing served as an exclamation point to the mayor’s upbeat address.
Busienss Journal


A happy ending for all! And such great coordination between the city and the private sector!

All happy....except City Councilor Clint Oliver, with an egg on his face. And rather than celebrate the happy ending, he decided to throw a fit. After all, his rants about the free market and the city scaring away business were completely wrong. Turns out, you CAN follow the people's mandate AND bring in big business.
Even before the mayor finished speaking, City Councilman Clint Olivier, whose district includes the blighted stretch of Blackstone, tweeted: “Cheering smart & final going into existing building is laughable. There's still blight at Clinton and Blackstone. Still crime and filth.

 photo clinton5_zpsu01oo2vm.png



Of course that logically makes no sense. Had Smart and Final done what they originally wanted, there'd be a shiny new blighted parcel across the street from an old blighted parcel. One which might have vary well been vacant for a decade.

And everybody who lives in Fresno knows that building new while letting the old become abandoned and blighted is a recipe for disaster.

After all, that's 50 years of Blackstone Avenue in a nutshell.




Oh, and curious on what sent Clint off? It just so happens that today, Clint Oliver announced he would be running for CA31. I'm going to guess his little fit was because an entire campaign strategy had to be redone after the Mayor's announcement. It's hard to run on "good urban planning destroys business" when it all worked out in the end. Well, all except for the businesses which went under after Walmart came in.