Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

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Winning over voters, Cubs staying in Mesa

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010
Updated at 12:10 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs have trained in Arizona almost uninterrupted since the end of the Truman administration, and they hope to remain in the desert for decades to come.

That history looks like it will continue after voters in Mesa approved Proposition 420 on Tuesday by an overwhelming margin. This had become a signature project for the Ricketts family during their first year of ownership, and they can claim an apparent victory as the Cubs moved closer to securing their new facility.

With 97 to 98 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday night, unofficial results on the Maricopa County and city of Mesa websites had roughly 63 percent voting "yes."

The ballot measure enables the city to spend close to 100 million on the next spring-training site as the Naples, Fla., development group that once tried to lure the Cubs out of Arizona recedes into memory.

As outlined, the Cubs would cover any construction costs that exceed 84 million, while the city could also contribute up to 15 million for infrastructure. The deal would be financed in part by the sale of undeveloped land in the area and a proposed 2 percent bed tax increase on Mesa hotels.

The Cubs would lease the complex and be responsible for operating costs. They also intend to develop a retail center around the stadium that's been called "Wrigleyville West." It would presumably attract existing corporate partners and attempt to recreate the atmosphere surrounding Clark and Addison with shops, bars and restaurants.

As the Cactus League's biggest box-office draw, one estimate has the Cubs creating a 138 million economic impact annually in the region, though some of that is spread to nearby Scottsdale and Tempe.

Mesa -- where the Cubs have trained from 1952-1965 and since 1979 -- is hoping for a bigger share of the revenues. While the Cubs have argued that they've outgrown their facilities, the complexes are not ancient.

The Cubs began play in 1997 at the new HoHoKam Park, which has a seating capacity of 13,100. Construction began the year before at Fitch Park, which sits on a 31-acre lot and includes four practice fields and a clubhouse with lockers for 200 players and 36 coaches.

But Cubs management is seeking one base of operations for all staffers -- not two located roughly a mile apart. Taxpayers might wonder why another reinvestment is already needed, but this could open an opportunity for a new team to relocate to Mesa.

Right now 15 teams are based in Arizona and 15 more train in Florida. There is a thought that Major League Baseball would ideally like a 16-14 split for scheduling purposes.

As voters headed to the polls, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and his staff gathered for organizational meetings in Mesa, where the baseball operations department will spend the next few days strategizing for 2011.

The offseason officially began Monday night after the final out of the World Series. Xavier Nady -- who will turn 32 this month and struggled to find a regular rhythm after the second Tommy John surgery of his career -- was the only Cub among the 142 players granted free agency. The first basemanoutfielder is a Scott Boras client and expected to test the market.

The other anticipated procedural move will be Aramis Ramirez exercising his 14.6 million player option for next season, which also guarantees the third baseman at least a 2 million buyout of the club's 2012 option worth 16 million.

The Cubs have also begun surveying fans on their website, asking questions about their Wrigley Field experience, whether they would be interested in a video replay board and weekend night games.

But nothing was quite as pressing to ownership as the "yes" given Tuesday in Mesa. The organization had invested a significant amount of time, money, energy and manpower in lobbying for the plan. Franchise icons Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo each made public appearances trying to sway voters.

Chairman Tom Ricketts had insisted that the Cubs weren't thinking about alternatives if Mesa voted against the proposition. There's no Plan B, he said. Cubs fans -- especially the ones who had retired to Arizona and take family vacations there in February and March -- will be glad to never learn what that might have been.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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