Fargo arrived last year from San Diego to be downtown Stockton’s chief advocate, helping promote business, housing, arts and entertainment in the city’s core.
Fargo believes Stockton occupies one point of a Northern California triangle that includes San Francisco and Sacramento.
“We’re inextricably connected to each other,” Fargo said. “That is not recognized often enough. I find it hard to say we’re an extension of Silicon Valley. I more think we occupy our own point on this triangle, and a very critical one. I think it’s time for us to claim that.”
Business Journal editor Elizabeth Stevens met with Fargo at her downtown office overlooking Janet Leigh Plaza to learn about Fargo’s first year and what she sees as Stockton’s potential.
CVBJ: When you were thinking of taking this job, what made you decide to come to Stockton?
Fargo: When I came here and walked through downtown Stockton and saw the amenities that had been developed, I distinctly harkened back to the time that I spent as a college intern and a graduate in downtown San Diego, in the Gaslamp Quarter in the mid-80s.
Downtown San Diego then feels much like Stockton feels to me now. We have beautiful, historic buildings, great designs, an urban grid pattern — all these opportunities. We just hadn’t taken them yet.
When I saw Stockton, I said, ‘This is the only opportunity left like this in California.’ There is no urbanscape that has not been handled, mishandled, by redevelopment and its cousins. Stockton is the only place that has that true urban feeling and the opportunities presenting to make the things that I’m very interested in doing happen.
It was the buildings that I fell in love with first and then the people.
I see nothing but opportunity.
CVBJ: What accomplishment are you most proud of in the past year?
Fargo: I think one of the most important things that we’ve been able to accomplish this year is actually beefing up the staffing and services that we’re providing to the assessment district.
We’ve embarked on a lot of new events and activities within the downtown — new programs, new policies — related to development that’s going on in downtown and special events and related to our homeless and transient population.
The creative tour that we hosted about a month ago is part of a larger strategy for us. It’s one of the most significant events (of the past year). We worked together with a young couple who has come over from the Bay Area and purchased a building in the downtown area. They’re creative people.
What we sought through them was to connect with other creatives in the Bay Area who also might be sort of economic refugees, if you will, from the high costs of living and doing business in the Bay Area.
We were able to bring over 33 people from the Bay Area and take them on tour of the downtown, the waterfront, the Miracle Mile neighborhood, UOP and all of our downtown and Victory Park neighborhoods.
I can say almost everybody on that bus was really interested. They all have their own timelines, but they were all interested in Stockton as a new place to live that had a future for them economically.
CVBJ: Were they just not familiar with Stockton or did they have negative impression?
Fargo: I think both, but I will tell you that to a person, they had no idea the quality and quantity, for example, of historic buildings that we have in our downtown. They had no idea what an urban space the downtown Stockton area is.
So I think that was a great surprise to them, and they immediately saw something that I saw years ago when I became familiar with Stockton — that this is one of the few seriously urban places in California that has yet to experience its full renaissance.
So being able to come here and work or live here near a waterfront with a university community with this kind of character within our area? That was just like a magnet for them. You could feel the draw.
CVBJ: Is there anything that has happened in the past year that has signaled for you that Stockton is moving forward?
Fargo: There’s one program right that I think is demonstrating the change in downtown and building new target populations — the Full Moon Rides.
Once a month now we have over 100 people that are coming into the downtown area, many of whom were never familiar with downtown before, and they are starting to ride their bikes as a group through the downtown. So, they meet, get organized and then go out on a big bike ride together. A hundred is a pretty significant number.
It might seem like it’s sort of a benign activity that’s not necessarily connected to anything, but for us it really is connected to a number of initiatives that are moving forward in the downtown. One is the future of the bicycle master plan for Stockton, which particularly will have a heavy emphasis on the downtown area.
Secondly, we’re looking at housing in the downtown area. The most likely group to immediately adjust to that opportunity and take advantage of it is the youngest group between 25 and 40, and those folks are the majority of people who are in this biking group.