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Bringing Cubs to Naples

Tourism leaders look to create a public-private ...

Three Collier County properties are in the ballpark.

A survey by the Chicago Cubs’ new owners identified three parcels that potentially fit the bill for a spring training stadium and administrative complex, said Craig Bouchard, whose Chicago-based Esmark is leading an effort to lure the ball team from its current home in Mesa, Ariz.

He declined to name the three but ruled out one region.

“None of them are in the city of Naples,” Bouchard confirmed at a press conference Thursday at the Naples Bath & Tennis Club, of which he is the chief executive officer.

The project would include a 15,000-seat stadium, the club’s main offices and coaching and player development and assessments operating 11 months out of the year. It would require 120 contiguous acres near transportation and utilities.

Ross McIntosh, a development land broker who is not involved in the deal, weighed in on properties that meet the description.

“We’re actually hard pressed to find 120 acres of contiguous land conveniently located near transportation,” McIntosh said.

One tract stood out as the most probable, a property called Citygate. It’s zoned for intense uses, he said, and is in a feasible transportation corridor at Collier Boulevard and Interstate 75.

Another at Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard could also be considered but would likely face environmental hurdles that would delay the process, he said.

“If a tract is currently undeveloped, then generally it’s because it has such significant environmental constraints that (has made) development problematic,” McIntosh said.

Bouchard said his company and Fifth Avenue Advisors, the Naples-based firm partnering with Esmark, hope to have a plan delivered within three to six months and have no intent of getting into a bidding war.

“We’re going to put our best foot out there,” he said. “If we’re the best, we’ll win, and if we’re not, we’ll lose.”

When asked what Naples has that Mesa doesn’t, Bouchard said: “We’ve got a better beach.”

He was quick to remind the 30-some audience members that Collier County was in the throes of a recession and the revenues generated by the Cubs was the shot in the arm the county needs.

The Cubs, No. 1 in attendance at home and on the road, bring $52 million per year of revenue to the county they go to in Arizona, Bouchard said. “We need that $52 million a year to come to Collier County.”

Whether the exploratory team wants a bidding war or not, the Chicago Tribune reported the team’s new owners, the Ricketts family, would be meeting with Mesa representatives about why the team should stay in Mesa.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said Tuesday that Mesa must at least match whatever Florida would offer, according to the Tribune.

Gary Price, a Naples City Council member and partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, said the most significant hurdle for Collier County is the club’s history in Arizona.

“From the governor on down, they are flying to Chicago to ask the Cubs to stay,” Price said. “The level of energy that they’re putting forth to protect what they have tells me it’s worth fighting for.”

Price said the plans, which would revolve around a 30-year contract as opposed to the club’s current 20-year deal, would include not only a stadium but a “Wrigley Village” to create other community amenities that would benefit the residents. Wrigley Field in Chicago has been home to the Cubs for nearly a century.

Neither Bouchard nor Price would divulge cost estimates, but Price said public-private the effort would not involve property or sales tax, but could be a beneficiary of tourism taxes.

Chloe Price of Naples was onboard with baseball in Collier County. Chloe Price, who used to live in Chicago, recalled the first game she saw with her father in 1948. She doesn’t remember who the Cubs played, or who won, but she remembered learning “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” she sang.

“I think the baseball world is a fabulous compliment to the people who come here on a regular basis,” she said.

Glenn Sinatra of North Naples is skeptical of an all’s-good portrayal of a Cubs relocation to Naples.

Concerns about cost, increased traffic and a change in Naples’ character have him wishing the ball team would stay put in Mesa.

“I’d rather keep Naples quaint as it is,” said Sinatra, who bought a house in Naples in 2001 and moved permanently last year.

He’s opposed to the idea but said he wanted to be open-minded if solutions are proposed to the problems he foresees.

Sinatra, a baseball fan, said he is happy to drive to Fort Myers to see the Red Sox and Miracle play, but he doesn’t want to see Naples turn into Fort Myers.

Talks of recruiting the Cubs to Southwest Florida began earlier this year. In April, radio host and Naples Daily News sports columnist Dave Moulton first began discussing the possible move after a listener e-mailed him an article about the Cubs in the Arizona Republic. That article said Mesa’s mayor was in ongoing discussions with the team about improvements to the stadium, as well as ways to keep them in Mesa.

According to the April 3 article in the Arizona Republic, the team can opt out of its 20-year agreement with Mesa next year and leave the city in 2012 for $4.2 million.

Discussions about the Cubs possible move continued throughout the summer and on Monday the Collier County Tourist Development Council said it was looking to create a private-public partnership to help guide efforts.

Still Bouchard acknowledged it’s not a home run, yet.

“We’re a long shot,” he said. “Long shots win some times.”

Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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