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Features- March 2004

Major Construction in All Corners: Several Segments Fueling Fresno's Growth

By Halley Cornell

The Clark Construction Group will complete a six-story, 340,000-sq.-ft. trauma and burn center in Fresno this month at a cost of $91.2 million. RTKL Associates of Chicago served as the lead architect.
Photo by Halley Cornell.

Fresno is stretching its limbs. With a population surging to 441,900 from 354,000 in 1990, California's sixth-largest city may be shedding its farmtown image.

The new Fresno is emerging in the form of major construction in all quarters, from the completion of the first high-rise downtown in four decades to the continued swell of residential and commercial growth now threatening to spill beyond the town's geographical limits.

Low interest rates and the refinancing boom continue to drive a market already reaping the rewards of a lower cost of living than the Bay Area or Southern California. Area Realtors estimate 25 percent of new residential construction serves "equity refugees" fleeing the Bay Area and greater Los Angeles.

Unemployment in Fresno does remain high-cresting at 15 percent in months when farming isn't in full swing-but job growth in the construction industry never faltered, even when recession was the word.

"I've never seen the kind of huge projects that we've had all happening at the same time in the 32 years I've been here," said Dave Archer, president of Fresno general contracting firm Target Constructors.

Health care is hot

That's especially true in Target's current niche market-health care construction. Though that company will have churned out a dozen-and-a-half medical offices by mid-2004, most area projects dwarf their average $1.5 million price tag.


Take Community Medical Center, for instance. Its six-story, circular 340,000-sq.-ft. trauma and burn center, scheduled for completion this month, will cost $91.2 million. The Clark Construction Group began work on the trauma stack, the 58-acre campus' pivotal component, in April. RTKL Associates of Chicago served as lead architect.

Owner CMC, which is spending a total of $250 million on new projects and improvements at the campus, including expansion of the existing hospital building and construction of a parking garage, plans to launch remodeling work and construction of a proposed 91,000-sq.-ft. ambulatory care center in early 2005. UC San Francisco is completing a $21 million research facility on campus, too.

Meanwhile, CMC-North in neighboring Clovis-a city whose population jumped more than 25 percent in the last 12 years-completed $27 million in expansion projects in 2003.

The $84 million final phase of an expansion program at St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno began in 2000. It is scheduled for completion in November. Seals/Biehle General Contractors of Visalia is constructing the 230,000-sq.-ft. building, above.
Photo courtesy of Seals/Biehle.

Also adapting to the increasing need for bed space is St. Agnes Medical Center. A 230,000-sq.-ft. building, the last phase of an expansion program the company began in 2000, is scheduled for completion in November. Seals/Biehle General Contractors of Visalia is wrapping up the $84 million project.

"Institutional construction like this expands with [residential] and population growth," said project engineer Matt Seals. "It's been a rapid upward climb since 2000."

Other major health care projects include $31 million worth of new Kaiser Permanente clinics in Clovis and Selma and North Fresno's 138,000-sq.-ft., $37 million Fresno Heart Hospital. Fresno-based Harris Construction Co. was the general contractor on Fresno Heart, which was completed late last year.

Harris was also tapped for a number of school construction projects. The firm, which reached the $100 million annual revenue mark two years ago, did half its business in school construction last year, according to President Tim Marsh.

"We're lucky the schools came around last year like they did, but I think it will level off," Marsh said. "There are other areas, like manufacturing, that have been neglected."

Harris will be finishing several elementary schools (at a cost of about $10 million each) this spring in North Fresno and will serve as construction manager for the Clovis Education Center slated to begin in early 2005. It's a $114 million project that includes a 270,000-sq.-ft., two-story academic building, three gymnasiums and a state-of-the-art concert hall and black-box theater designed by project architect Edwin S. Darden and Associates of Fresno.

Residential activity on the rise in Clovis

Schools also are following residential growth. Last year, Clovis, with a population of about 76,000, pulled more new-home permits than its much larger neighbor to the south, Fresno. In Clovis, residential building permits climbed to 1,672 last year, up from 1,319 in 2002. Fresno posted 1, 514 residential permits last year.

"Percentage-wise, Clovis is the hottest market," said Jeff Harris, president and CEO of the Building Industry Association of the San Joaquin Valley. "Residential construction is going at a breakneck pace and other types of construction are having to keep up."

Harris will complete a $20 million water treatment plant in Clovis in July to serve the burgeoning population.

Homebuilders such as Wathen-Castanos, Granville Homes, Wilson Homes and McCaffrey Developments all have subdivisions under way in the area, with plans to break ground on more this year.

"North Fresno and southeast Fresno will be strong this year, but the preferred location is certainly Clovis," said Kevin Castanos, president of Fresno's Wathen-Castanos. His company started about 400 units in the area last year, a 30-percent growth over 2002.

Where residential construction is testing the sphere of influence in North Fresno, retail and office projects have followed. The Village at Granite Park, a 295,000-sq.-ft. retail and sports complex in North Fresno, should be complete by this time next year. The $35 million project will include four soccer fields and three softball stadiums as well as several shops and restaurants. Fortune-Ratliff of Fresno is the general contractor and Alameda-based MBH Architects designed the project.

DeWayne Zinkin Sr. will soon open a $10 million, glass-paned office complex, called Riverview Professional Offices, near Fresno Heart Hospital. Construction on the three-story, 65,000-sq.-ft. project, which will likely contain medical offices, began in July.

A busy Zinkin also completed Riverview Shops, a $15 million retail project blocks away, in November.

Rediscovering downtown

Commercial permits in Fresno grew from 116 in 2002 to 157 last year. The most heralded growth, however, has taken place in once-abandoned downtown Fresno. The city worked for years to coax development there and finally garnered serious interest after a baseball stadium built for a Triple A team-the Fresno Grizzlies- opened in 2002. And with the recent additions of two new office buildings and a federal courthouse, as well as Community Medical Centers' rebirth and the rehabbing of several structures, downtown is on a roll.

"We're very excited to see the revitalization of downtown Fresno is happening with over $1 billion in construction completed or under way and thousands of new jobs," said Dan Fitzpatrick, executive director of Fresno's Redevelopment Agency. Fitzpatrick said the spending spree began about three years ago.

In October, Clark Construction finished the 11-story "Tower at Convention Center Court," the first high-rise to be erected in Fresno since the 1960s. The $21 million project, designed by Los Angeles-based Gin Wong Associates, contains 294,000 sq. ft. of office space.

More than 2,500 tons of steel, supplied and erected by Pleasanton-based Herrick Steel, were used to construct the frame and barrel-vault roof. The tower represents one of the first uses of glass-fiber-reinforced concrete downtown, said Jeff Williams, Clark's project manager.

On downtown's western edge, developer Alex S. Palmer & Co. opened a six-story, $45 million office building in December for about 1,500 Internal Revenue Service workers. More IRS employees are housed at the recently remodeled, 12-story Guarantee Building, a rehab project that cost $30 million.

And the skyline downtown will have a loftier focal point in July 2005 when the new federal courthouse will overtake the Fresno County Plaza by 20 ft. as the tallest structure in the city. The general contractors on the $120 million, 385,000-sq.-ft. facility are Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Dick Corp. Los Angeles-based Gruen & Associates will serve as executive architect.

Plans for another courthouse, one serving juveniles, are in jeopardy due to recent changes in law that give the state jurisdiction over new judicial buildings. The courthouse, the fourth phase of a $176 million Juvenile Justice Campus just south of Fresno's city limits, is on hold for now.

Martin Temple, principal for Fresno-based Temple-Andersen-Moore, said the delay is "an interesting aspect because the courthouse is the biggest building on the project." Temple's firm is serving as associate architect. "It was to be two stories with all the juvenile courts needed now and room to grow, plus areas for the public defenders and district attorney's staff," he said.

The $30 million first phase of construction on the Juvenile Justice Campus got under way in September. Harris Construction is the general contractor for this infrastructure-oriented phase which includes construction of a central plant building.

The second phase, which will include a 480-bed housing component and an institutional core, is expected to begin in May, Temple said. Phase three will include a sewer plant. The fourth phase-if it comes to fruition-will be the $35 million courthouse.


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