Group operating Fresno’s Granite Park is meeting the terms of its lease, city attorney says

The nonprofit operating Granite Park is in substantial compliance with its contractual obligations to the city, Fresno’s city attorney said, despite a city audit questioning its accounting practices.

City Attorney Doug Sloan made the comment at Thursday’s City Council meeting in response to a question during public comment.

The nonprofit that operates Granite Park is Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, run by developer Terance Frazier. He previously partnered with new Congressman TJ Cox, but in March Cox divested from the foundation and Jeff Blair, the owner of the Fresno Monsters hockey team, was named foundation secretary, documents filed with the Secretary of State show.

The foundation has faced increased scrutiny in recent months. Besides the city audit reporting questionable bookkeeping and financial practices at Granite Park, the state attorney general’s office reported the foundation was delinquent in its annual registration forms.

Sammy Franco, Frazier’s former friend and business partner, raised questions about Granite Park during public comment. Franco asked the council to hold the nonprofit accountable. “The public deserves answers to this audit and its findings,” he said.

No council members responded directly to Franco, including Councilmember Esmeralda Soria, who is in a relationship with Frazier. 

Instead, Councilmember Miguel Arias asked Sloan to speak. The attorney noted the nonprofit’s compliance.

Franco said he was disgusted and disappointed with the response.

“We left with no answers and a very peculiar statement from Doug Sloan about the lease,” he said. “It’s surprising to me that when taxpayer dollars are involved, the council seems to be looking the other way. …It’s all about accountability here.”

Franco pointed to a number of items in the Granite Park lease that were breached by the foundation. The lease states the foundation cannot sublease Granite Park without consent from the city, and the city’s audit found two employees lived in a storage shed for a period of time. The lease also discusses lenders, noting lenders cannot be affiliated with the tenant. Yet the audit found Cox and Frazier made personal loans to CVCSF. The auditor was not provided loan agreements.

As part of their deal with the city, Frazier and Cox promised to invest $2.7 million to renovate three dilapidated ball fields and build a restaurant, basketball and volleyball courts, jogging trails and other amenities to end years of blight at the 20-acre park in east-central Fresno.

In return, the city agreed to a 25-year lease that paid CVCSF $150,000 a year for 10 years to help with staffing and maintenance. The agreement also said the city would provide direction to CVCSF on league activities.

Since then, Frazier has said the restaurant didn’t pencil out and he’s losing money at Granite Park because of an expensive water bill. In July 2018, Frazier announced the addition of a dozen soccer fields at Granite Park, something that wasn’t in the original agreement.

Frazier said he was pleased to hear Sloan’s comment.

“I have dedicated countless hours and my own money to restore Granite Park and successfully provide recreational activities for our youth and adults in a safe and clean environment,” he said. “The facilities are amazing now. Only a short while ago they were a mess.

“After we move on from the politics of the situation, we will continue to see a successful example of a public-nonprofit partnership that delivers valuable amenities, programming and services for our community’s residents,” he said.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.