Properties remain a drain on Fresno budget

FRESNO, Calif.

City Council Member Lee Brand says there don't seem to be a lot of options to put the place to use.

"It's sitting there we're trying to prevent vandalism, it's limited use its zoned for open space parks...if we could find a similar kind of tenant, with baseball or soccer," Brand said.

The city's last prospect, a nationwide recreation company called Big League Dreams tried to make a deal to take over in 2010, but the city rejected the plan as too risky. Nobody else has stepped up to the plate.

Brand says:"At this point there is no relief in sight."

A bigger obligation, the Former Met Museum remains a $15 million obligation. There is one tenant. The Community Media Access Collaborative. A public access TV operation funded by fees Comcast and ATT pay to the city of Fresno.

Engineer Terry Dolph says the old building is a good fit for the modern equipment: "As a production studio it's absolutely fabulous, it's state of the art and the response has been great."

CMAC is paying $100 thousand a year for one floor. They hope to expand, and other nonprofit groups are also looking at leasing space in the historic building.

Brand says there's hope the city can recover some of its money. "We're never going to pay for it, but we can offset it and mitigate the cost."

The city has managed to refinance its obligations to those buildings and other city properties, but according to the City Manager's office, the Met Museum and Granite Park are costing the city $2.25 million a year in debt service, maintenance, taxes and fees.

While the city struggles to deal with a $16 million budget deficit these costs are a significant drain.

Because of these deals, and others the city council voted on Thursday to put the "Better Business Act" on the November election ballot.

Brand pushed the measure through the city council in 2009. If voters approve in November, the act will become part of the city charter, and require anyone seeking loans from the city to submit to the same level of financial scrutiny required by private lenders.

Brand says neither the Granite Park or the Met Museum deals, or even the downtown baseball stadium would have been approved if the act had been in place.

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