A sale of the Fresno Grizzlies (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) to a group led by MiLB veterans is closer to reality after the Fresno City Council approved changes to the Chukchansi Park lease today.
A group led by Ray and Michael Baker, part of the Grand Junction Rockies (rookie; Pioneer League) ownership along with Colorado Rockies ownership, and Jim Coufos, an investor in the defunct High Desert Mavericks (High A; California League), has been negotiating a purchase of the Grizzlies from managing general partner Chris Cummings and his ownership group. One issue during negotiations: the Chukchansi Park lease, which calls for annual rent of $750,000.
The agreement approved today by the city council calls for a lower lease payment of $500,000, but also calls for a separate $300,000 annual payment devoted solely to Chukchansi Park maintenance and capital improvements. That annual payment would not kick in until 2020, giving the new ownership group some time to ramp up operations. As a bonus, the city will match the $300,000 annual maintenance payments.
The lease agreement is contingent on the team being sold, so the next step is further negotiations. The Pacific Coast League has been monitoring the sales process, and league President Branch B. Rickey expressed optimism that a deal can be reached, per the Fresno Bee:
“It has been a long process. … I would hesitate to say it’s getting ‘very close,’ ” Rickey said Friday. “There are still a number of steps left, and they all need to be completed. … We’re not sure what the timing will be insofar as the parties getting to the close.”
Rickey characterized the deal as being in “extra innings,” and added that he and the league are optimistic about the sale being concluded. “They’ve been at it a long time; everyone is looking forward to getting to a conclusion.”…
“This is really good for Fresno,” [Fresno Mayor Lee] Brand said Monday. “This brings a group that has extensive experience with baseball in Colorado. … I think we’ve done as good as we can possibly do to bring in a well-qualified team.” He added that the new owners are proposing an all-cash transaction in the sale – the terms of which are not yet being disclosed.
Rickey may be erring on the side of caution here; insiders with a knowledge of the negotiations are calling it a done deal.
RELATED STORIES: Fresno Grizzlies Sale in Final Stages