Fresno considers cutting Grizzlies rent in half for a new owner

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Like the weather at the ballpark, the forecast for the Fresno Grizzlies seems mostly sunny. An opening day decision could turn the team into a money maker after years of playing in the red.

"If it passes, I think it's a good deal for the city, it's a good deal for the ballclub, and at the end of the day I think is a step in the right direction," said Grizzlies general manager Derek Franks.

The financial improvement started last year, but a new deal with the city could make the Grizzlies more marketable to potential buyers.

The Grizzlies host opening day Thursday and the product on the field here promises to be as good as it's ever been -- with the new affiliation with the Houston Astros and their strong farm system. And off the field, it looks like the sky's the limit.

The infield is groomed, the grass is cut, and opening day preparations are almost complete. But when the Fresno Grizzlies take the field Thursday, there will be a couple big changes from day one in 2014.

The name's the same, but the players now hope to play their way to Houston instead of San Francisco. And while Giants fans may be disappointed by the changing affiliation, it may also bring peace to the Valley's baseball fans.

"I think everybody's starting to agree they want Fresno to have a great club and that's something that Dodgers and Giants fans, I'm seeing some common ground there," Franks said.

What fans won't notice, though, is the team's drastically improved economic situation. Although the team lost more than $600,000 in 2014, that number is half what it was the year before, which was better than the year before that. And Fresno's city council will vote Thursday on a deal to officially cut the team's stadium rent in half - from $1.5 million to $750,000. But there's one catch: the deal only applies to whoever buys the team from its current owners.

"What that is is sending a message that the city of Fresno is willing to negotiate," said council member Lee Brand. "We want to find somebody here that can find a way to make a profit and be successful."

The rent is one of the highest in minor league baseball, but so is the city's debt. And city council members have been pushing for new ownership for years now as they look for a partner in growing Downtown Fresno.

"It all goes towards developing a model that makes the team successful and maybe makes a little bit of money," Brand said. "And then for us, this is a valuable property, resource we have and we have to make sure we keep it in good condition and the worst case scenario or the nightmare is a vacant stadium."

The elephant in the room, of course, is in the name of the stadium. The Chukchansi tribe pays the team $1 million a year for naming rights, but with its casino closed since October, there's some doubt a payment can be made this August. With the naming rights, the team's value goes up by millions of dollars.

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