It’s just coincidence that the city announced its intention to sell Chukchansi Park’s seldom-used concert stage on the same week that the Save Mart Center was once again named among the top 100 arenas for worldwide ticket sales. But it seems telling.
The downtown stadium was built a year before Save Mart Center and envisioned as more than just a minor-league ballpark. It would offer year-round entertainment and be an anchor attraction for downtown. The 40-ton moveable stage was built for $330,000 to bring in the top-tier music acts to make that happen.
Now, after more than a decade, the city is looking to offload it for $25,000.
It seems like a deep discount until you realize the stage needed repairs and was mostly unused. It’s painful to think it could end up at Sacramento’s Cal Expo, where it will be used for the types of entertainment events it never saw here.
The last concert at Chukchansi Park was in 2009 with Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. It took the city, the convention center’s SMG-run management team and the Fresno Grizzlies working together to get the show booked.
Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino helped bring in Reba McEntire in 2007 and Toby Keith and Ana Gabriel in 2006. Def Leppard played the stadium in 2005 and the Beach Boys stopped by in 2002, as did B.B. King.
The number of concerts booked at the stadium since it opened could fit on a cocktail napkin — and you might not have to write that small.
Of course, Fresno is full of underused concert venues. In a recent column I noted that the Rotary Amphitheater at Woodward Park has seen an uptick in concerts.
But, there’s another point of view. One reader argued rock concerts should be happening downtown, not at Woodward Park. He’s bothered by the window-rattling noise and the F-bombs, and he figures the city has two venues that are better suited for concerts. Plus, “The city begs to get people to go downtown,” he wrote.
He has a point.
Keeping a stadium booked with entertainment doesn’t happen by word of mouth. Over the years, the responsibility of making sure the stadium is on the minds of promoters was passed back and forth between several entities, including the city and The Fresno Diamond Group, which owned the Grizzlies when the stadium was built. It was never high on anyone’s priority list.
For its part, Fresno Baseball Club LLC, which owns the Grizzlies, would love to see more events at the stadium. It is looking at what it can do during the Fresno Fuego and Fresno Grizzlies home seasons, when it has control of what gets booked. But it also has to operate a AAA baseball team in the meantime — and the Grizzlies are not in the live music business.
The city shouldn’t be either. It doesn’t have the staffing or expertise, and it has its hands full with its other downtown venue — Selland Arena. The city turned management of the arena over to SMG, which also manages Save Mart Center, in 2004, but started co-promoting events last year in hopes of reinvigorating the venue to help it compete in today’s marketplace. Those events did well and made some money for the city. When the alt-metal band Tool played the arena in March it brought in $70,000.
The truth is, Chukchansi Park doesn’t host more concerts because it’s a hard sell and a low priority for all parties involved.
The stadium is integral to any kind of downtown revitalization because of its size, location and political baggage. At some point it will become impossible to ignore.