The city of Fresno, California will be home to the United Soccer League’s newest franchise beginning in 2018. While it is mostly known as a hub for agriculture, Fresno has quietly become a die-hard soccer town. Now with its own USL team, this could be the jolt Fresno has been waiting for to revitalize its downtown area.
Downtown Fresno, once a major thoroughfare between Los Angeles and Sacramento, has struggled in recent years. The fifth-most populous city in California also has the highest population of children in poverty, according to a November 2016 Fresno Bee report.
However, multiple efforts have been put forth in order to revitalize the city’s urban culture, including the addition of a USL team. The team, which has yet to be named, has a chance to greatly assist in the ongoing revitalization of the downtown area, should it choose to play matches there.
While the club must find or build its own stadium to play in by 2020 per USL requirement, matches could take place at Chukchansi Park in the meantime. While it may not be the best place for a soccer match for a myriad of reasons — one being that it’s designed primarily for baseball — it would only be temporary until a permanent home could be found or built.
The stadium is currently home to the Fresno Grizzlies, a minor league baseball affiliate of the Houston Astros, as well as the Fresno Fuego who compete in the Premier Development League — U.S. Soccer’s fourth tier.
The Fuego average 3,951 people per match at the stadium (the highest in the PDL), which creates a good atmosphere considering the level of soccer the club is in. Fire Squad Fresno, the Fuego supporters club, marches into every home match from nearby Tioga Sequoia Brewing Company Beer Garden.
The beer garden is the product of the ongoing revitalization effort in Fresno’s downtown area, which also includes the development of new residential living and a $20 million plan to restore traffic to Fulton Mall.
Bitwise, a technology company which is headquartered downtown, is the catalyst for much of the activity, and has plans to establish a technology campus in downtown Fresno as well. Around $100 million in private-sector investment has flocked to downtown Fresno over the last 24 months.
Downtown Fresno’s recent remarkable economic growth is a welcome sign to an area that much of the city’s population consider past its prime. The urban sprawl that shifted the center of Fresno to the north has significantly decreased the amount of people living downtown. As a result, there is less foot traffic for whom businesses and restaurants can cater.
With proper marketing, Fresno’s USL franchise could almost fill Chukchansi Park’s 12,500 capacity on match days. More people in the downtown area would necessitate the opening of additional restaurants, pubs, and breweries.
If the city of Fresno and the new team can eventually come together and find a suitable, permanent soccer-specific facility in downtown, it would be the most amicable solution for all parties involved.
A pro soccer team’s appeal combined with the development of business in the area would attract young people to downtown in droves. Getting more people to visit downtown has long been a priority for the city of Fresno.
Prior ideas to revitalize downtown, such as a building a River Walk similar to the one in San Antonio, were half-baked at best and lacked appeal. But a professional soccer team is the perfect idea, especially when combined with the recent uptick in shops and restaurants.