The new Fresno Grizzlies (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) owners were finalized today, along with the news that the Chukchansi Park lease was extended through the 2036 season.
The team was on the market for quite a while, and last summer a sale to a group led by Ray and Michael Baker, part of the Grand Junction Rockies (rookie; Pioneer League) and Colorado Rockies ownership, and Jim Coufos, an investor in the defunct High Desert Mavericks (High A; California League) was announced. The group, Fresno Sports and Events, has been negotiating a purchase of the Grizzlies from managing general partner Chris Cummings and his ownership group. The Chukchansi Park agreement 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 sale was made official today after the Fresno City Council unanimously approved the new Chukchansi Park lease. Derek Franks, after serving as executive vice president and general manager, will continue to lead the front office staff in day-to-day operations as the newly appointed team president.
“This is the right group at the right time to own the Fresno Grizzlies,” Franks said in a press statement. “In working with them through this entire good-faith negotiation, it’s clear they are proud to be doing business in Fresno, and it’s yet another example of progressive-minded leadership that will help unleash the full potential of this downtown. We also owe many thanks to Chris Cummings and his group for their commitment and patience to make sure this transition was done correctly.”
New construction projects and new management policies will soon be underway:
- A new hospitality area/gathering place will soon be under construction down the left field line, immediately making Chukchansi Park a more modern facility similar to other Triple-A ballparks and high-level minor league stadia. Fans will have the opportunity to be more social during Grizzlies games.
- The most inexpensive 18-ounce beer at Chukchansi Park will be five dollars, beginning this season on opening day. This is a reduction from the cheapest beer price being eight dollars in recent seasons. The goal is to have all beers be five dollars at Chukchansi Park.
- Chukchansi Park will be available more frequently for community events at zero cost to organizers. Examples include, but will not be limited to: High school baseball games, art shows on the concourse and board meetings on the function room level of the stadium.
“As the new owners of this team, and newcomers to the Central Valley, we expect to have to earn your trust, and we will,” Michael Baker said in a press statement. “We’re welcoming in as many non-profit groups as we can, to truly make Chukchansi Park a community gathering place all year long. Folks interested in taking advantage of the ballpark should be in touch with our community fund.
“Fan experience is of the utmost important to us. Beyond making a typical evening at Chukchansi Park more affordable, we need to make sure the Fresno Grizzlies are still leaders and trend-setters in Minor League Baseball with everything we do; promotions, hospitality, and helping develop future championship talent for the Major League level.”
The Grizzlies have been promo powerhouses in the Ballpark Digest awards in 2016 and 2o17, winning best promo in 2016 and sharing the award with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2017.