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An artist's rendering shows the proposed soccer stadium for Downtown Fresno.

published on June 7, 2021 - 3:45 PM
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After what one soccer league executive said was a “hard bargain” from the Fresno City Council, he says the proposal from the Ruelas family to purchase Selland Arena and Valdez Hall for Fresno Fuego FC is the right plan to bring soccer to the Central Valley.

But at least one city official wants to see other offers before going all-in with another sports team.

The proposal from Juan Ruelas, owner of Fresno Fuego FC, would have a total price tag of $40 million, according to Justin Papadakis, chief operating officer and chief real estate officer for United Soccer League. Of that, $21 million would be for capital improvements to be made over 15 years with an initial $3 million paid up front. Construction costs would be $14 million. Some $2 million would go to buy the property.

“The result is one that is 100% privately-funded that will eliminate $700,000 in annual operating loss for Selland Arena and Valdez Hall,” said Papadakis.

It would also generate $500,000 in annual tax revenue.

USL is involved in all stadium and real estate projects for teams in its league, Papadakis said.

Word about possibly paying for the stadium using a loan funded by the City of Fresno was brought up at one point in negotiation but has since been shot down.

In a presentation to the Fresno City Council, Ruelas said that he would not use City money to fund the project.

Most real estate deals are discussed in closed session, said Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias, whose district includes Selland Arena and Valdez Hall. Arias said there is more than one serious offer being put on the property.

“The potential is exciting and would add to the nightlife, but we have to go in with both eyes wide open given our recent experience with baseball,” Arias said. “These kind of proposals come with a risk to the taxpayers.

Following a season shutout by the pandemic as well as a demotion to Single-A baseball, the City of Fresno renegotiated $1.5 million in annual rent to $500,000 with the City paying the utilities.

“There’s always excitement with the possibility of a new entertainment presence in Downtown Fresno, we just have to make sure we spend the time to do due diligence to make sure it’s a viable, sustainable proposal,” Arias said.

The stadium would be a 7,500-seat outdoor, multi-purpose stadium, according to documents filed with the City of Fresno. It would be equipped to house American football, lacrosse, youth and high school soccer as well as music festivals and concerts.

Valdez Hall would be transformed into an indoor sports center with four indoor courts for futsal  —  a smaller version of soccer played on a hard court. It could also be converted to mixed martial arts tournaments and wrestling, Ruelas said in his presentation to the City Council May 27.

The team is currently shopping around for a location for a training facility that would have nine soccer fields — including one with 1,000 seats — as well an indoor training facility. The hope is to keep all team facilities in the Fresno area, said Chris Wilson, Fresno Fuego general manager. The cost for the training facility is not included in the $40 million.

Papadakis said they’ve started making front office hires and are preparing for a 2022 start in USL. Fresno Fuego FC would play in League I. Under USL rules, a major league affiliate is not required as it would be in baseball. Major player signings can’t begin until November when contracts with existing teams expire.

Teams in the USL play 34 regular season games. Then there are preseason and post-season games as well as exhibition games. Ruelas has proposed international games with teams from Mexico and Great Britain that would “bring in significant economic impact,” Papadakis said.

He said it would bring a large economic impact to Downtown Fresno’s nightlife.

“There won’t be a bad seat in the house. They’ve really spent time to make it a first-class facility for players and most importantly fans,” Papadakis said.

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