Zumwalt Construction is building the new left-field social area at Chukchansi Park.
Written by Edward Smith
Under the July sun, the Fresno Grizzlies broke ground Tuesday on their first capital improvement project in the stadium under new ownership— replacing 1,000 seats in left field for a covered patio and social area.
The baseball team, along with representatives from the city and county of Fresno, announced the nearly $1 million project slated to be completed by Sept. 15, according to Fresno Grizzlies President Derek Franks.
The project will take out seats from left field and replace them with tables and umbrellas and is the “single largest project” since the park opened in 2002, said Franks.
Doing the work is Fresno-based Zumwalt Construction, Inc., which has been in the area for more than 40 years, said Robert McKnight, operations manager for Zumwalt.
The project is putting 37 contractors and subcontractors to work. Being a local company, the investment dollars from the Grizzlies and the City of Fresno have a multiplier effect of three times, according to McKnight.
The money for the new social area is coming from both the new ownership and from the City of Fresno.
Part of the contract for taking over the team and leasing the stadium from the city involved investing more than $3 million into a capital reserve fund for projects like these. The money from this project was taken directly from this fund.
In addition to this principal amount, the city reached an agreement with owners Ray and Mike Baker and Jim Coufos to fund $300,000 a year from lease and parking proceeds in 2020, according to Mark Standriff, director of communications at the city.
Every year after that, the money will increase 2 percent. Between now and 2036, that total will reach between $16-18 million, according to Tim Orman, chief of staff for Mayor Lee Brand.
It will “take work” to get the facility sparkling like it was in 2002, said Franks. He added the park still resembles a pre-2005 stadium.
Parks like those in Sacramento and Salt Lake City were geared toward maxing out seating, with capacities reaching more than 12,000, whereas those done after 2008 emphasize experience.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get people out of their homes,” said Franks, who feels that baseball all over is “competing for people’s free time.”
Less than 20 percent of their attendance is from hardcore fans and the other 80 percent “may like baseball, but they’re coming for the $5 beers, the fireworks and the experience.”
Focusing away from large attendance numbers means not maxing out space and thinking of ways to keep fans interested.
Unlike major league baseball, whose seats are filled based on their wins and losses, says Franks, minor league attendance is the same regardless of the number of losses. People come for the experience. This despite the fact the Grizzlies are No. 1 in the Pacific Northern division of the Pacific Coast League with 48 wins to 35 losses.
“A social experience is a big part of coming to a ball game,” said Franks.