The Downtown stadium business model might be a success after all.
If so, all it needed was a new location in Fresno and local developer Terance Frazier.
That was my thought after reviewing Frazier’s application to serve alcohol at his rehabilitated Granite Park project.
I wrote a piece last week about this conditional use permit application making its way through City Hall’s planning department. In a nutshell, Frazier is seeking a state alcohol license to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits in the spectator area of Granite Park’s three softball/baseball fields. This process includes getting the A-OK from city planners and the Police Department.
The A-OK comes in the form of a conditional use permit, or CUP. The approximately 20 acres of athletic fields are city-owned. Frazier and partner TJ Cox (through the Central Valley Community Sports Foundation) have a lease to rehabilitate and operate the fields.
The lease’s initial term is 25 years. After that, the lease is automatically extended for five 10-year terms (unless either party says it wants out of the deal). Granite Park and the foundation are headed for a 75-year marriage.
The first page of the lease states: “Rent shall be accrued at $62,500 annually and credited against the value of the Capital Improvements constructed on the Premises by Tenant, estimated at $2.7 million….”
Sounds like a good deal for both sides. Granite Park under the original developer had turned into one of Fresno’s worst eyesores. City Hall, which took possession during the original developer’s financial meltdown, had no idea what to do with the land and assets. The new developers get a break on rent.
Frazier and Cox are already fulfilling their end of the deal. Granite Park used to feature three replica Major-League ballparks – Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and AT&T Park. The three venues have been rehabilitated, but the distinctive features of those ballparks are gone.
So, what is the new Granite Park business model?
Let me quote from the operational narrative submitted to City Hall by The Vernal Group, a local architecture firm working with Frazier and Cox.
For the record, Granite Park as a brand name has been scuttled. The new site will be called the Cedar Avenue Sports Complex.
“We plan to have this property be a center for both sports and entertainment for the Central Valley,” the narrative states. “The initial phase will require 30-40 employees and involves laying new synthetic turf on the three existing infields and seeding the outfields. There will also be minor aesthetic work done to the outfield walls and snack bar. The restrooms will have the missing fixtures and accessories replaced to meet current accessibility codes.”
“Future phases include a two-story restaurant and office building, an indoor athletic facility, and a workout facility. The potential final phase will bring a 3000-4000 seat multipurpose stadium for baseball, soccer, and football usage.
“We also plan to host various events on the property such as (but not limited to) festivals, concerts, birthday parties, corporate events, BBQ’s, etc….Completion of the initial phase will allow us to host league play (softball) during the week as well as tournament play on the weekends. Later phases will allow us to accommodate larger events and greater number of patrons. Currently, our plan is to have the initial (phase) wrapped up by mid-January of next year and our realistic goal for guest quantity in our first full year of operation is 500,000 persons.”
Sports entertainment, a full-scale baseball stadium that seats thousands, restaurants, adult beverages, festivals, parties and concerts, all of it in one spot, all of it happening year-around – wasn’t that the business model sold to Fresno taxpayers in 2000 when the City Council approved construction of the nearly $50 million Downtown stadium (now Chukchansi Park)?
Back in the day, some people said the stadium idea is fine and the business plan is doable – if it all happens in North Fresno. But the prevailing opinion at City Hall was that Downtown revitalization depended on a 12,500-seat multi-purpose stadium at the corner of H and Tulare streets.
The 15th anniversary of the stadium’s first game is May 1, 2017. The jury is still out on the original business plan. At this point, it’s safe to say things haven’t turned out exactly as City Hall hoped. In particular, no one could ever figure out how to turn the stadium into an effective and profitable concert venue. That, in turn, meant the expected growth of sustainable entertainment venues around the stadium never materialized.
But the Frazier-Cox dream – that might work.
City documents indicate that the concerts, at least in the project’s early phases, would be held in the most southern of the three softball fields (what used to be AT&T Park). The portable stage would sit along the third-base path, with the performers facing south and away from the homes along nearby Hampton Way.
City officials have already conducted a preliminary sound test. They found that the expected level of sound from a concert would not be unduly loud along most of Hampton Way.
The Frazier-Cox project has advantages that the Downtown stadium vision never enjoyed. Frazier-Cox aren’t paying $1.5 million in annual rent, something that the Fresno Diamond Group (original owner of the Fresno Grizzlies) had to shoulder.
The neighborhoods around the Cedar Avenue Sports Complex have their rough spots. That was one reason City Hall got so deeply involved with Granite Park’s original developer more than a decade ago. The hope was that a thriving green space-entertainment-commercial venue would stabilize neighborhoods on the edge of serious decline.
At the same time, there’s nothing anywhere near the Cedar Avenue Sports Complex to compare with what you see at the Fresno Rescue Mission and Poverello House, just to the southwest of Chukchansi Park.
Fresno State with its 24,000-plus students is just a mile to the north of the Sports Complex.
And right next door to the Sports Complex is a 20-acre commercial project that has several successful restaurants and room for much more. Remember Sammy Hagar’s short-lived Cabo Wabo Cantina in Fresno? Maybe it would have survived if the Cedar Avenue Sports Complex had been fully built out.
The Frazier-Cox CUP application must go through two rounds of review at the planning department. It passed the first round. It now sits on the desk of planning director Jennifer Clark.
The Frazier-Cox plan is to issue an alcohol bracelet to anyone who wants to buy a drink. To get the alcohol bracelet, the consumer must relinquish their driver’s license.
City code will limit the number of concerts at the Cedar Avenue Sports Complex to no more than six per year.
That’s six more than we’re now getting at Chukchansi Park.
John Carbray had the challenge of making the original Downtown stadium business model work when his Fresno Diamond Group embarked on the path to Chukchansi Park. His heart was in the right place.
I hope Frazier, a former minor-league baseball player, knows something Carbray didn’t.
Photo: The Fresno Bee (screengrab)