NAPLES — A trip to Tallahassee on Tuesday left Gary Price with a good feeling.
The Naples city councilman still isn’t ready to say Collier County is a shoo-in when it comes to Chicago Cubs spring training, but a day-long tour of the state capital has him feeling like Collier County is a real contender.
“I still think we’re a long-shot, but every meeting I feel a little better,” Price said Wednesday. “I feel better about our chances. I think it’s real.”
Price, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, was among a small group of people – including Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney – who met with officials in Tallahassee on Tuesday to discuss whether possible funding sources exist to help bring the Cubs to Southwest Florida.
That trip included a 20-minute visit with Gov. Charlie Crist, who afterward said he would do whatever he could to help Collier County get the Cubs.
“We’d love to have the Cubs spring training here,” Crist said.
The team is considering a move from its current spring training home in Mesa, Ariz., to Collier County.
Craig Bouchard, vice-chairman of Esmark, Inc. – which has teamed up with Fifth Avenue Advisors to bring the Cubs to Florida – said he thought Crist’s enthusiasm was well received by Ricketts and Kenney.
“Yesterday’s meeting was important,” Bouchard said in an e-mail Wednesday. “They have a very important long-term decision to make and encouragement from the state leadership completes one piece of the puzzle.”
Price said the groups had a “very positive discussion” with the Cubs on Tuesday, and the group received “significant direction to further clarify” what the team is looking for.
While Price would not go into detail about what that clarification entailed, he said the team is still looking for a project that would require 120 contiguous acres, and would include a 15,000-seat stadium and the club’s main offices.
It is expected that coaching and player development and assessments would operate out of the location 11 months out of the year.
Price said the group is still on target to have a presentation in the next 60 to 90 days.
In October, Bouchard said the team had identified three parcels of land in Collier County that could work for spring training operations and an administrative complex. Bouchard declined to name locations, but did say none of the spots were in the city of Naples.
Price said Wednesday he was still not prepared to name possible locations for the project.
Price said he is aware that the state of Arizona is pulling out all the stops to ensure the Cubs stay in Mesa. The state, he said, is predicting it will lose 650 jobs if the Cubs leave.
“(They’re) fighting as hard as (they can),” to keep the Cubs, Price said.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith told the Naples Daily News on Tuesday he was not overly concerned about the prospect of the Cubs leaving Mesa. Smith called Tuesday’s meetings in Florida “part of the process” and said his community is working hard to ensure the Cubs continue to stay in Mesa.
While Price said he can’t say whether a move to Collier County would bring in the same amount of jobs, he did say having a team in the area would substantially impact the economy.
“It’s a difficult time for the Florida economy and taxpayers,” Bouchard said in his e-mail. “Attracting $50 million of annual revenue our way is one of many important steps we can take to climb out of the recession.”
More meetings between Cubs officials are in the works, but Price said locations and dates of those meetings have not yet been determined.
Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna_buzzacco