The potential sale of Selland Arena and Valdez Hall to a minor-league soccer franchise is officially on hold – for now.
Fresno City Council member Miguel Arias announced Wednesday that he was pushing to cancel a scheduled, closed-door negotiation between city officials and representatives of Fuego FC during Thursday’s Council meeting.
The reason? Lack of financial information from the franchise.
It comes one day after the team launched a campaign to increase pressure on the City Council and Mayor to support the franchise.
The campaign offered a form email that Fresnans could sent to their respective city council members. It read: “I believe that ONE FRESNO means Fuego Soccer has a home in Downtown Fresno.”
In a statement, Arias said the scheduled negotiation was beyond “premature.”
“In the middle of a pandemic, facing a budget crunch which could single-handedly force the City of Fresno to enact layoffs of essential personnel, the word ‘premature’ is an understatement to describe rushing into a multi-million-dollar land deal for a soccer franchise with insufficient financial information at our disposal.”
The councilman, who represents downtown Fresno, said that the City was required to conduct sufficient due diligence before directly or indirectly investing $1 million or more in taxpayer resources for private projects.
The source of that requirement? A 2009 law called “The Better Business Act,” drafted by then-City Council member Lee Brand to counteract government boondoggles akin to Chukchansi Park, the Metropolitan Museum, and Granite Park.
“Fresnans trust us to do our due diligence when it comes to proposals like
this,” Arias said.
“We hope the ownership of Fuego will respect the need for full transparency to adequately review our ability to once again make professional soccer a viable amenity for Fresnans.”
“As a soccer fan, I am a champion of returning professional soccer to downtown Fresno but we must do so in the context of our city’s current
financial reality and with prudent fiscal safeguards for our taxpayers.”
Just hours before the negotiations were pulled from the City Council agenda on Wednesday, Fuego FC President Chris Wilson told The Sun that the team was close to finalizing the deal for the property.
“I think from our perspective we’re moving in an incredibly positive direction with the City of Fresno,” Wilson said. “We feel like we have an extremely supportive council, an extremely supportive mayor and city manager, and we feel like we’re getting really close to getting a deal done with the city.”
Wilson declined to share the details of the deal because the negotiations are ongoing.
The plan for the property is to build a soccer stadium in the parking lot on the property, and Wilson said Selland Arena and Valdez Hall would be renovated, restored and turned into a “sports and entertainment hub for downtown Fresno.”
One complicating factor is the Cosmopolitan Tavern & Italian Grill, which sits on the corner of Ventura and O Street, right next to Selland Arena’s parking lot.
Wilson said that nothing has been determined in regards to the restaurant.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with all the local businesses down there on how a stadium will fit in physically into the plot of land, but our hopes are that Cosmo continues to operate and thrives because of this addition,” Wilson said.
As for the city’s perspective, the potential for minor league soccer’s return isn’t completely dead, Arias said.
But fresh off the heels of renegotiating a lease for Chukchansi Park to keep the Fresno Grizzlies in town, the Fresno City Council appears to be much cooler on jumping into a fresh sports deal head-first.
“It was only weeks ago that the City Council, Mayor Brand, and Mayor
Dyer worked tirelessly to save our baseball team, a franchise which has faced its own tumultuous financial history,” Arias said in his statement.
“We’re learning from our past mistakes. One way of doing that is by not hurrying into agreements under organized pressure and minimal information. I look forward to working with the Mayor and City Council on bringing soccer back to downtown Fresno when details become readily available to the city.”