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City Council OKs deal to help Fresno Grizzlies


Posted at 07:44 PM on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009
By George Hostetter / The Fresno Bee

The Fresno City Council approved a revised downtown stadium lease with the Fresno Grizzlies on Thursday evening, ending months of closed-door negotiations with the financially ailing baseball team.

Council Member Henry T. Perea cast the only no in the 6-1 vote. The council action authorizes City Manager Andy Souza and City Attorney James Sanchez to complete the deal.

Seconds after Council President Cynthia Sterling adjourned the meeting, Grizzlies partner Chris Cummings rose from his seat in the audience and exhaled noticeably.

"I'm grateful to be in Fresno," Cummings said.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a member of the city's negotiating team, also looked as if the vote had lifted a heavy weight from her shoulders.

"I certainly feel a sense of closure," Swearengin said.

Thursday's 90-minute hearing had an anti-climactic feel to it.

The financial pressures on both sides are no secret.

The Grizzlies pay $1.5 million annual rent to play in the city-owned Chukchansi Park. Partners in the Fresno Baseball Club, the Grizzlies' owner, said they needed help or the team might fail.

But Swearengin last month went to the City Council to announce a $28 million general fund budget deficit and an 18-month fix-it plan that includes more than 100 layoffs and furloughs.

The challenge for both sides is that the Grizzlies' rent helps City Hall meet its $3.5 million annual payment on bonds that funded construction of the $46 million stadium. City Hall needs the rent, but can't afford to have the Grizzlies collapse and leave empty a stadium that is considered a key part of downtown revitalization dreams.

City consultant Daniel Barrett on Dec. 3 unveiled the proposed deal's main points. They hadn't changed much in two weeks.

The Grizzlies will continue to pay $1.5 million in annual rent. Should the Grizzlies turn a profit, the city gets a share. If the team is sold, the city gets a share of the profits.

The Grizzlies, in turn, will receive annual city subsidies that could be between $500,000 and $700,000. For example, the city will reimburse the team for 50% of certain operating expenses up to $500,000 annually.

Perea gave no indication as to why he opposed the deal.

Some council members who supported it said they were doing so because there was no good alternative.

Council Member Larry Westerlund said the city "was sold a bill of goods" when stadium supporters nearly a decade ago said the Grizzlies could handle the $1.5 million annual rent.

Council Member Mike Dages said his heart goes out to Fresno taxpayers.

But, Dages added, he would vote for the revised lease.

"There's no choice," he said.

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