COLLIER COUNTY — It’s not a strikeout.
It’s not a home run either.
Collier County’s Tourist Development Council on Monday agreed to look further into what it might take to draw the Cubs to Naples for spring training.
The council gave authority to its vice chairman, Murray Hendel, to continue working on the project and to return with a recommendation at its September meeting.
Hendel brought the idea to the council after reading a column on it by David Moulton, who has been advocating for the Cubs to move to Naples. Moulton writes a column for the Daily News Sports section and naplesnews.com.
Hendel has suggested creating a special committee to look at the potential for attracting the team to Naples and how it might be done. That could be the next step in September.
Moulton encouraged the council to take a vote in support of the project and to put on record that it would not “stand in the way.”
“This can’t happen without your support,” he said. “Period.”
The council wasn’t ready to stand behind the project just yet.
Council members still have a lot of questions, including how much it will cost and who would put up the money to build and maintain a new stadium.
Moulton said “private forces” are out there to “make it happen.” But they need to know they have county approval before moving ahead.
He said a penny of taxpayer dollars would not be needed to build the stadium.
“In my belief this is the economic opportunity for Collier County in a lifetime,” said Moulton, a co-host of “Miller and Moulton in the Afternoon” on 770-AM. ”To me, if not this than what? And if not now when?”
He said people he never thought he would hear from are talking to him about their interest in the project.
The baseball team has threatened to leave its spring training home in Mesa, Ariz., because of stalled negotiations over a new multimillion-dollar ballpark. The Cubs aren’t saying whether they would have any interest in moving to Naples.
“The Cubs do not have a comment on this topic at this time,” Peter Chase, team spokesman, said Monday in an e-mail.
Naples City Councilman John Sorey, who sits on the Tourist Development Council, recommended that Hendel work with others to gather more facts and figures to bring back to next month’s meeting, including information on how neighboring counties have gone about attracting teams for spring training.
“This is not like we are bringing the first rocket to the moon,” Sorey said.
In an interview after the meeting, he said it’s hard for him to believe the project won’t require tax dollars. “I will be astounded if that ends up being the case,” he said. “I don’t think that’s realistic.”
Donna Fiala, chairwoman of the Collier County Commission and the Tourist Development Council, said she thought attracting the Cubs sounded like a good idea, as long as no taxpayer dollars were involved.
With a recent change in the team’s ownership, Moulton told the council that now might be the best time for the Cubs to consider a move from Arizona, where they’ve been training since the administration of President Truman.
“Mesa, Ariz. Naples, Fla. You’ve got to go 500 miles to find water in Arizona. I think our chances are great here,” Moulton said.
Tourist Development Council member Ski Olesky asked whether there were any negatives to attracting a team like the Cubs here.
Moulton said there are some who believe spring training is “just not Collier County’s cup of tea.” It’s an area known for its beaches and for shopping and the arts.
He believes the Cubs will be a boon to the local economy, attracting new visitors and residents alike.
“I see empty homes being filled in,” he said. “I see this as beginning a second wave.”
A new stadium could generate 1,000 construction jobs, Moulton noted.
A recent study released by the Florida Sports Foundation pegs the total economic impact of 39 days of spring training in 2009 at $752.3 million. With 16 teams playing in the Grapefruit League in 2009, that’s an average of $47 million per team.
Tom White, general manager of Hawthorn Suites on Pine Ridge Road, said he has 25 employees who depend on tourism and a new stadium is sure to bring more tourists here.
“I think this is a great economic impact on Collier County,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
He said while other hoteliers might not support it he would favor increasing the 4 percent tourist tax by a penny to support the Cubs. The tax is charged on all hotel and other short-term stays.
East Naples resident Larry Basik said he and his wife have been Cubs fans for years. They grew up near Wrigley Field. “We think the Cubs down here would be great,” he said.
His family owns about 85 acres off U.S. 41 near the Big Cypress flea market that would be suitable for a stadium, he said. He pointed out that there were already plans for widening U.S. 41 in the area.
Basik Development, run by Larry’s son Keith, has already invested about $11 million in improvements in the area for the flea market, which is four miles east of Collier Boulevard.
Garrett Beyrent, a real estate developer, talked about the 47.5 acres he has near Golden Gate High School that was part of a plan to bring baseball to Naples more than a decade ago. It’s still available.
Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that maintaining a stadium would be a big commitment, especially if it falls to the county.
The council should be cautious as it moves forward, he said. A special committee driven by private interests may be a good way to get the effort rolling, Wert said.
“There’s no question this could be a nice economic impact to our county,” he said. “We just have to figure out where it goes.”
The maintenance costs shouldn’t be a big concern, Moulton said after the meeting.
“The team is going to generate so much revenue,” he said. “There’s got to be a way to pay for it. You could just have parking pay for the maintenance of it.”
He was encouraged by the council’s discussion and vote on Monday.
“Now they are kicking the tires. They really want to be sure.”