Granite Park Projects Abandoned?

October 28, 2008 8:07:46 PM PDT
Legendary rocker Sammy Hagar will take the stage at the Cabo Wabo Restaurant at Fresno's Granite Park. But city leaders may not be celebrating with Sammy's fans.650 free tickets were given out for Hagar's concert. The restaurant and bar has been doing well since it opened in August ... but the other half of this project has been abandoned and Fresno city leaders say the developer hasn't made payments on the loan in 10 months.

They are fields of unfulfilled dreams. Unkept soccer fields, sun bleached billboards, and the skeleton of a roller coaster. A ride that developer Milton Barbis says best describes his four year journey with the Granite Park project.

Barbis' original plan for the 42 acres in east central Fresno was twofold. A non-profit venture with sports fields and a for-profit complex full of restaurants and shops. In 2004 the city of Fresno partnered with Barbis ... guaranteeing a $5-million dollar loan for the non-profit in exchange for public use of the fields. It was also an investment in an often neglected part of town. Fast forward to 2008.

The commercial venture including Cabo Wabo Cantina and three other restaurants are open. But the city says Barbis hasn't made a loan payment in 10 months and is $450-thousand dollars behind. And the sports fields subsidized with $5-million Fresno taxpayer dollars are deserted. At least one councilmember admits that's the city's own fault because it built a competing soccer complex in west Fresno.

Jerry Duncan said, "And the city decided to compete with Granite Park and undercut his costs and guess where all the tournaments went? They didn't go to Granite Park."

At Tuesday's council meeting council members voted to back up it's loan commitment. So if the bank forecloses the city has to come up with the $5-million dollars. Barbis said the council's move came as a complete shock.

Milton Barbis said, "That said that we were going to get current November 8th and we haven't heard back from them since so we thought everything was fine."

But Fresno's city manager insists the city isn't giving up on the project.

Fresno City Manager Andy Souza said, "Today's action doesn't bind a foreclosure it moves us in a direction to continue to work with the developer and continue to make that work."

The cities Mgr. said the city or the bank can sue the developer ... And could also sell the property to recoup its investment.

The developer told me he's moving forward with a new plan for the empty fields which include a hotel and theme park ... that he says will eventually provide jobs for 1,000 people.

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