Fire Squad Fresno members lead the charge in Fresno FC’s home opener
Frank Yallop had only been to Fresno one time before becoming general manager of Fresno Football Club, but now he knows the place quite well.
Both with his own eyes and through Google Maps.
For the past year, one of Yallop’s primary responsibilities has been to find a piece of property for the the United Soccer League club to build its own privately financed stadium.
Which hasn’t been as simple a process as it may sound.
“The big thing you don’t realize until you start looking is how few options there really are,” said Yallop, best known in soccer circles as the two-time MLS Cup winning coach of the San Jose Earthquakes.
“You think there’s a bunch of land available, but when you start checking them out and go through all the things we need to build a stadium, it’s like two or three sites. I thought there were 500 sites when I looked at Google Maps.”
What Yallop and the Foxes ownership group need to find – and soon – is 15 to 20 acres, including parking. They want it to have the infrastructure needed for a 5,000-seat stadium, access to major roads including freeways and in a location soccer fans want to be.
So far, Yallop has visited “seven or eight” potential sites among those referred to him by a real estate agent, city of Fresno officials and others.
The next step, he said, is narrowing them down to a top three and evaluating the pluses and minuses of each so that franchise owner Ray Beshoff can make the best decision.
“It’s a big puzzle,” Yallop said. “You’ve got to put it all together and consider what’s the best scenario for us moving forward.
“Is it going to be easy for fans to get to? Will it allow for a good fan experience as far as getting in and out of the parking? And of course, the price. You can’t pick something too expensive, like land designated for houses and hope it gets rezoned. All of those factors go into it.”
The first location club officials looked was downtown Fresno, where a smaller parcel (7 or 8 acres) would suffice because of available parking.
Two potential city-owned sites were looked at, the Selland Arena parking lot and the parking lot on H Street across from Chukchansi Park, but each was deemed too small for a stadium. (The city ended up selling the H Street lot to the Fresno Grizzlies for $1.9 million.)
Other locations on the outskirts of downtown didn’t fit the bill, either.
“We don’t want to be down in the middle of nowhere with warehouses around us and no one knows where we’re at,” Yallop said. “You’ve got to do it right, and I’d rather wait for the right spot.”
The right spot for the Foxes may not even be within the Fresno city limits. While declining to disclose the exact locations of his top contenders, Yallop did say one of them is in north Fresno and another is “a few miles” north of the city off Highway 41 in Madera County.
“We’re trying to stay in Fresno. That’s our preference,” Yallop said. “But you’ve got to look at every option, mull it over and come to the best decision.”
Another site the Foxes looked into, one that would make tremendous sense for a soccer stadium, is Granite Park. The city-owned sports park boasts a central location, great freeway access and is less than a mile from Fresno State.
However, Granite Park operates under a 25-year lease with a nonprofit owned by developer Terance Frazier and Congressman TJ Cox. Although neither side seems particularly thrilled with the arrangement, any attempt to change it would likely result in lengthy negotiations.
And Fresno FC doesn’t have time to wait.
Playing their second season at Chukchansi Park, which they share with the Grizzlies, the Foxes are subject to a United Soccer League mandate that each club play its home games in a soccer-specific stadium with at least 5,000 seats by 2020, or at least have one in the works.
There’s financial urgency, as well. Although building a stadium costs money (on top of the $5 million team ownership already shelled out for USL’s expansion fee), being able to sell the naming rights and sign deals with beverage distributors while controlling parking and concessions is the best way to recoup those costs and start turning profits.
“It adds value,” Yallop said. “It’s our property. It’s our stadium, we can do what we want with it 12 months out of the year, like having concerts there and other sports and community events, and you feel better about the business.”
Business has been pretty decent so far. Nearly 8,000 attended the Foxes’ season opener at Chukchansi Park, and another big crowd is expected for Saturday night’s second home match against the Tulsa Roughnecks.
But for the franchise’s long-term future, a facility that wasn’t designed for baseball is a necessity. The next step, one Yallop wants to make by this summer, is choosing where to build it.
“It’ll be our house,” he said.
Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee
If you go
Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Chukchansi Park vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Records: Foxes 1-0-3, Tulsa 3-2-1