Victory on Van Ness
That’s about the only way to describe what I called Van Ness Beach, also known as Club One Casino’s Summer Splash Beach Party.
For most of the weekend, I had some part in working on stories for the Fresno Bee about the downtown casino’s wet-and-wild event and got a good feeling as to where the organizers were coming from.
Even after the 44-foot SlideZilla was taken down, there was one thing that stuck around for Club One: its owner’s love for downtown.
Kyle Kirkland bought Club One in 2008 with another investing partner. Since taking over, his bold ideas for downtown, especially the Summer beach party, are easily recognizable as nothing less than authentic.
After he tried to pressure Council member Oliver Baines into going down SlideZilla, he told me that his vision for the event was to draw around 100,000 people in five years time. With an estimated 5,000 people that came to this year’s event, there’s no doubt that word-of-mouth can spread the beach party’s success to more people.
Of course, Kirkland’s original event was more than just bringing people downtown, it was changing a broken formula for downtown events. Perpetually, events of this magnitude would be placed in Fresno’s least favorite strip of real estate: the Fulton Mall.
From the successful Fresno Chile Festival to the not-so-successful HyeFest, the Fulton Mall hasn’t been a big enough draw for the entire city to come downtown for an all-day or partial day event with a large crowd.
Whether it was the pools, SlideZilla or just the laid back atmosphere of a day at the beach, Kirkland and Club One’s success was found on Van Ness Avenue, not on the mall.
Granted, the debate over revitalizing the Fulton Mall is far from over, but the success of the event was profound enough to beg the question: why don’t we open up the Fulton Mall to traffic?
If Van Ness Avenue, filled with the Fresno County Office of Education, Club One, the Holiday Inn Downtown and the Fresno County Courthouse, can draw a good crowd, why can’t the mall (perhaps with stores that fit a broader taste of shoppers)?
I give a ton of credit to Club One’s staff and Kirkland for putting on this event. It was more amazing than anything Fresno has probably ever seen in a street party. On top of that, there were no incidents of crime reported and people had an enjoyable time (well, maybe not the Holiday Inn guests).
Perhaps this one event will bear fruit for the future, with the City organizing street fairs or other block parties in downtown. In spite of Van Ness being closed, navigating around the area wasn’t hard at all over the weekend.