Fresno City Hall, Grizzlies fight over unpaid rent

The Fresno BeeNovember 18, 2013 

Chukchansi Park in August 2013.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

The Fresno Grizzlies owe City Hall a boatload of money in back rent at city-owned Chukchansi Park.

Nothing new there — the Grizzlies seem perpetually in arrears.

But now the two sides are squabbling over the bill's size. That is a new chapter in the decade-old financial mess that is the downtown stadium.

City officials say Fresno Baseball Club, the Grizzlies owner, owes about $745,000 as of last Thursday.

"We need them to pay their bill," Assistant City Manager Renena Smith said.

Not so fast, said Grizzlies President Chris Cummings. The team accountant puts the bill at $358,000, he said in an email.

"The city is going to contact our CPA to work out what the true payable amounts to," Cummings said. "As we have always done in the past, we will make the payment when cash flow allows."

It's not clear why City Hall and the Grizzlies fail to see eye to eye.

Smith said the team so far has earned about $389,000 in rent credits for doing stadium maintenance. The annual limit is $500,000. Cummings said he will turn in enough receipts to receive the remaining $111,000.

A sticking point could be the $1-per-ticket fee that goes to parks. The Grizzlies collect the money, then send it to City Hall. Smith said the team bill includes two years of unpaid parks fees.

But the big picture is crystal clear. The Grizzlies and City Hall are both hurting for money.

The team routinely loses $1 million or more per year, even with an amended lease that cut its rent from $1.5 million a year to about $750,000.

The city's cash-flow situation is so delicate it had to borrow $14 million from the water department just to balance this year's budget. City officials need every dollar they can get from the Grizzlies in a timely fashion to help with the $3.4 million annual payment on stadium-construction bonds.

The Grizzlies' monthly rent before various credits is $125,000.

Smith, who oversaw the city's budget for years before moving into the city manager's office, said she can't recall the last time the Grizzlies were current on their rent.

The Grizzlies owed nearly $1.2 million in August, nearly $842,000 in February and about $275,000 in March 2012.

"We are still pressing them," Smith said. "We're not backing off on the expectation that they will become current at some point."

Cummings said the Chukchansi tribe has made a majority of its $1 million-a-year stadium naming-rights fee.

"We expect the balance to be paid shortly," Cummings said.

Cummings said team officials continue to work on selling the team "but have nothing we can report yet."

Cummings said off-season ticket sales so far are better than last year's and team management continues to pare expenses.

"We are in better financial shape than we've been in for the last few years," Cummings said. "But, as always, it's not easy during the non-baseball months."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at news.fresnobeehive.com/city-beat.

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