Fresno city leaders want to incentivize job, business growth in the Tower District, along stretches of Fulton Street and Belmont Avenue, and west of Highway 99 between Clinton and Shaw Avenues through a new pilot program. Larry Valenzuela FRESNO BEE

What's at stake?

Fresno city leaders want to promote local entrepreneurship in vacant parts of central Fresno. Can they incentivize non "big box" businesses?

Entrepreneurs and local businesses hoping to open in central Fresno could now get a leg up from the city.

In a 6-0 vote on Thursday, Fresno City Council approved a new initiative aimed at incentivizing job creation within Fresno’s Tower District, as well as portions of the city west of Highway 99 between Clinton Avenue and Shaw Avenue. Councilmember Luis Chavez was absent for the vote.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Vice President Annalisa Perea of District 1 and Councilmember Miguel Arias of District 3, will create an 18-month pilot program that waives impact fees for local retail and commercial businesses opening in vacant properties in qualifying areas of districts 1 and 3. In exchange for creating five full-time jobs, eligible businesses will have fees waived for things like sidewalks, fire stations and traffic signals.

Increased property tax and sales tax revenue, as well as other revenue streams resulting from the job creation and economic activity, will offset the costs associated with the waived fees, according to the resolution.

In an interview with The Bee/Fresnoland on Wednesday, Perea said the goals of this program are threefold: to promote job growth and entrepreneurship, increase the city’s sales tax revenues, and diversify the types of businesses available in Fresno’s Tower District.

“My goal,” she said, “is to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in places like the Tower District and really just have more people here in our neighborhood taking ownership of the area.”

Goal to support Fresno entrepreneurs, not ‘big box’ businesses

A similar pilot program launched in 2018 along the Kings Canyon Road/Ventura St./Avenida Cesar Chavez corridor in District 5 is meant to “chip away” at vacancy along the south Fresno thoroughfare. The pilot was renewed in November for another 18 months.

But in five years, only a Taco Bell has taken advantage of the program, receiving $30,000 in waived fees from the city.

In an interview with The Bee/Fresnoland on Wednesday, Perea said this new program will be different.

“My goal with this is not to incentivize more big box commercial entities,” she said. Rather, Perea said she wants to promote Fresno entrepreneurship “at the local level.”

Alchemist Coffee Lab, a locally-owned cafe that opened in Fresno’s Tower District in December 2022. A new city program will wave fees for local businesses that open in Tower District and other parts of District 1 and District 3. Photographed Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023 in Fresno. Eric Paul Zamora Fresno Bee

The resolution has specific requirements. Businesses have to be headquartered within city limits, have their principal place of business within city limits, be licensed by the city of Fresno, and meet all requirements to conduct business within the city of Fresno.

Local businesses already operating in Fresno, however, can’t use the incentive program to relocate from one part of the city to another.

Perea hopes the specific requirements in the pilot program will result in an “Ampersand-type ice cream (shop) versus a Baskin-Robbins.”

More family-friendly businesses in Fresno’s Tower District

One of the other goals of diversifying businesses is to improve safety in the area and create a stronger sense of community, Perea said.

“We’ve had a lot of breakouts of fights and just smaller level crime here in the Tower District,” she said.

Perea wants to give people more options “other than just going to a bar,” and said the city could do more to prevent crime through community investment, such as supporting entrepreneurship.

“When it comes to solving crime,” she said, “I don’t think the answer is necessarily always to throw more police resources to try to fix the problem.”

She’s not the only one concerned about the alcohol-based businesses in Tower.

During public comment of Thursday’s Fresno City Council meeting, Fresno resident Lisa Flores said there’s a “saturation” of liquor licenses in the Tower area on Olive Avenue.

There “seems to be an uptick” in fights along Olive Avenue, Flores said. She said the city should consider suspending a liquor or business license if necessary.

Ultimately, Perea said she’d like to see more family-friendly businesses in Fresno’s Tower District, which currently caters to nightlife and drinking.

With the newly launched farmer’s market on Thursday nights, new management of the Tower Theater, and plans for free family movie nights at the theater this summer, Perea said there’s “incredible positive momentum right now in the Tower District.”

“If there’s someone out there that has always dreamed about opening up a business,” she said, “this incentive package is the catalyst to do just that.”

More details on eligibility are available here. Anyone with additional questions about the incentive program can email Perea’s office at

Screenshot of a Tower District area where local businesses can qualify for new fee waiver program approved by Fresno City Council on May 11, 2023. City of Fresno
Screenshot of a District 1 area where local businesses can qualify for new fee waiver program approved by Fresno City Council on May 11, 2023. City of Fresno

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.

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