Fresno lawmakers may have a second chance to fix what some at City Hall view as a bum deal for taxpayers.
The question is whether elected officials have a finishing kick.
The City Council on Thursday will consider a contract with the California Interscholastic Federation to hold the annual state high school cross country meet at Woodward Park.
The deal should have been put on paper three years ago. It wasn't, and now city and CIF officials are hustling to fix things. That could require a reworking of the deal's finances in what City Hall views as its favor.
The meet has been at the north Fresno regional park every fall since 1987. It draws about 2,000 of the state's best high school runners as well as an estimated 10,000 coaches and fans.
An organizational routine developed over the decades.
The CIF about every six years lets cities bid to host the meet. The event is always on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. The first day is practice, the second is competition.
Fresno, with its mid-state location and popular Woodward Park course, always has the winning bid. The latest victory came in late 2009 when officials announced a deal making Fresno the host through 2015.
Details, though, were never put into a written contract signed by both parties. This apparently was the CIF's preferred way of doing things.
"We've always had an informal agreement," said CIF spokeswoman Rebecca Brutlag.
If Fresno wants something in writing, she added, that's fine by the CIF.
New City Manager Bruce Rudd doesn't like informality, especially at a city-owned venue with its potential for liability trouble. Rudd, who has doubled as the city's Parks director since early 2011, asked early this year to see the CIF contract.
"What contract?" was the answer.
Rudd said he doesn't know how that legal detail slipped through the cracks. He said city officials spent about seven months this year negotiating a written deal with CIF officials that tries to include the promises of four years ago with protections for City Hall.
What's odd is that Rudd said he will ask the council to approve the three-year deal even though he doesn't like the terms.
"If it was up to me to negotiate again, I don't know if the numbers would be the same," Rudd said.
Maybe it's not too late, said one City Council member.
If better terms are wise and the contract isn't final, Council Member Lee Brand said, "why not get them now?"
The City Hall-CIF handshake deal was negotiated by officials at the now-defunct Fresno Sports Council.
The sports council was born about 10 years ago when then-Mayor Alan Autry persuaded the City Council to transfer management of the Fresno Convention Center to Philadelphia-based SMG.
Autry hoped to turn Fresno into a regional center for sports entertainment. The SMG deal required the company to create a sports council to market the city's charms. The sports council board had members from the public and private sectors. City Hall set aside money each year for subsidies to help lure sporting events to town.
The state cross country meet deal, as described in the contract and staff report going to the City Council, essentially gives all of Woodward Park (about 300 acres) to the CIF for two days.
The CIF each year gets a $5,000 stipend and $7,100 to help cover its personnel costs. The $12,100 for each of the past two years has come from the Parks Department's pot of general fund money. Parks last fiscal year got about $11 million from the general fund. But Parks, hammered by the Great Recession, is also watching every penny.
Part of Parks' budget comes from entry fees -- generally $5 per car at its regional parks.
The CIF deal for the state meet allows it to charge the fee. Brutlag, the state spokeswoman, said the CIF only charges on Saturdays -- when it collects even when the visitor isn't a state meet spectator. Further, the fee is on par with admission to an event: $10 per adult and $5 for children (older than 5) and seniors (65 or older). If a car entering Woodward Park on meet day has three adults and three young teens, the price of entry is $45.
The CIF keeps everything.
The payoff for City Hall is to come from tourism. The meet's thousands of out-of-town visitors generate business for local restaurants and retailers. Teams and families stay at Fresno hotels and motels, generating room taxes that flow back to city coffers.
Numbers have been floated to highlight the meet's financial value. The sports council in November 2009 estimated a $1 million boost to the local economy. The sports council a short time later estimated an economic impact of $420,000. The staff report going to the City Council on Thursday estimates the impact at $350,000.
The sports council four years ago estimated 1,800 hotel/motel room nights generated by the meet. The staff report going to the City Council on Thursday estimates 1,100 room nights.
The current room tax is 12%. Brand (who represents the Woodward Park area) pegged the average cost of a hotel/motel room at $70 per night. That would produce less than $10,000 in room taxes for the general fund.
Rudd said he's not sure if the formula for estimating economic impact is accurate. He wonders if all meet-generated hotel/motel bookings land in Fresno.
"Are some people staying in Clovis?" Rudd said.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his City Beat blog at news.fresnobeehive.com/city-beat.