File Photo Kyle Kirkland

published on December 21, 2018 - 12:10 PM
Written by David Castellon

If you believe plans to move Fresno’s Club One Casino to a larger downtown location are being driven by an intent to make more space for gambling, the owner says you’d be wrong.

Currently, the card room that has occupied the ground floor at 1022 Van Ness Ave. – partly under the Radisson Hotel – has 51 card tables, and its state gaming license would allow just two more tables even if it moved to a larger space, said owner and CEO Kyle Kirkland.

What is driving the move, he said, is that in recent years, the 30,000 square feet the casino has occupied for the past 23 year hasn’t offered enough space for what the casino needs to grow as a business, and that doesn’t just involve gambling, he said.

“For example, we don’t have adequate banquet space for what we’re asked to do. So occasionally, we’ll have somebody come and [ask], ‘Can you do a banquet? We have 300 people,’ and we don’t have the space for that.”

And the casino’s restaurant sometimes can’t accommodate potential customers because it’s full and there just isn’t room to add more dining tables, Kirkland said.

That will change, possibly in about two years, as last week the Fresno City Council approved the offer of Club One and its financial backers to purchase for $1.7 million what is commonly referred to as the “Spiral Garage,” at 830 Fulton St., a city-owned parking garage with 50,040 square feet of former retail and office space on its west side – across the street from Chukchansi Park baseball stadium.

Those spaces were built by the city in 1967 and leased immediately by the Gottschalks department store next door as part of an expansion, while the parking garage was built above and behind the news spaces.

Gottschalks vacated its flagship downtown location in 1988, along with the retail and office spaces next door, and all have been vacant since, said Mark Standriff, a Fresno city spokesman.

The office and retail spaces sold encompass nearly 25,000 square feet on the ground floor, an equal amount in the basement and about a 3,000-square-foot mezzanine area that the casino would renovate and move into, Kirkland said.

With the purchase, Club One also would take ownership of the six-story, 580-space parking garage.

Kirkland told the City Council last week that there is no threat of losing downtown parking, as plans are to keep the for-pay parking garage operating for public use as well as for Club One patrons.

“I’ve already had conversations with the Fresno Grizzlies about their parking needs,” for home baseball games at Chukchansi Park.

“We have the outline, at least, for a usage agreement with them, Fortunately for us, we have sort of opposite usage,” as the baseball games mostly occur on days in the summer months, and casino business tends to be slower in the daytime and during the summer, Kirkland said.

The building is being bought at its assessed value, but it includes requirements to do deferred maintenance. That includes $4 million of work in the office and retail space required to make it habitable again and $3 million on the parking garage.

In all, Kirkland estimated the required work and renovations work to cost $13-$15 million, which is being paid for with the backing of Brixton Capital, a Solano Beach-based real estate investment firm.

“There certainly is risk, but we believe we have the talent to pull it together. We’re confident we can put the resources in this [building] to turn it into a productive asset.”

He said he plans to start planning the renovations right away, and part of that will involve making decisions on how the new casino site will look and what will be in it.

The look will be vital, as the goal will be to make the card casino look modern and stylish without going too far and alienating long-time players, Kirkland said. Other decisions will include whether to use the additional space to add at least one more restaurant and whether to open up a bingo room, which the casino can’t legally operate unless it’s used as a fundraising venue for nonprofits.

Expanding the event space for meetings and celebratory gatherings is pretty much a given, and Kirkland said he is considering a way to hold concerts or other types of events there.

“Any nighttime activity. I’ve had theater groups ask if we have room for that, and it isn’t set up for a concert space,” as the casino’s current event center can hold just 120 people,” he said. “But I could see us have nightclub activity.”

This follows a trend that has been growing in Las Vegas and the casino industry for years – putting less focus on gambling and finding other, non-gaming attractions to draw visitors.

“Twenty years ago, Vegas was 80 percent gaming and 20 percent non gaming,” Kirkland said. “Now, you’re seeing 30 percent gaming 70 percent non gaming – Cirque du Soleil shows, retail.”

He quickly added, “I’m not telling you we’re going to have a Cirque du Soleil show.”

Kirkland added that he sees Club One’s new locale as an enhancement for business on Fulton Street, which has had new restaurants and breweries open there over the past year – among them Zack’s Brewing Company, which is scheduled to open this weekend – generating more nighttime activity there.

“I see us being an anchor at that [south] end, supporting the other businesses, because, frankly, we’re open.”

Jimmy Cerracchio, president and CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership, agreed, saying, “I do think it’s good Club One is moving to Fulton,” not only because an empty building is finally getting a new use, but the casino and its bar, restaurant and other attractions will be a further draw for patrons to the downtown “brewery district,” which includes the south end of Fulton Street.

Some big portions of the cost for Club One’s move would have nothing to do with the looks and setup of the new casino.

Unlike most office commercial buildings, a casino never closes, so equipment doesn’t power down or get less use during certain parts of the day. As such, most equipment in casinos, from air conditioners and heaters to kitchen equipment, has to be of heavy-duty grades, said Kirkland, adding, “My TVs never go off. My HVAC never closes. I’ve got [food] fryers that have never been turned off in our kitchen.”

And because it’s a casino, surveillance and other security features would be installed extensively throughout the casino area and the parking garage to protect patrons, adding to the renovation costs, Kirkland said.

Speaking of the parking garage, Kirkland said he plans to hire a parking consultant to determine if the parking spaces can be better configured to hold more cars.

In addition, he’s considering making use of the two twisting car lanes on the north end of the parking garage – giving the building its “spiral” nickname – to promote the casino on the other end.

“With lighting, I can make those look like casino chips or something.”

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