Go Cubs Go or 'Stay Cubs Stay?'
Mesa man sings parody, Naples insults
NAPLES — Talk of the Chicago Cubs coming to Collier County for spring training may not be over. The team’s plans of staying in Mesa may have just hit a snag.
At least two Major League Baseball team owners are objecting to a surcharge on Cactus League tickets to help pay for a new $84 million spring training complex in Mesa, Ariz. Also, an advocacy organization in Arizona said Mesa’s initial agreement with the Cubs appears to violate a state constitutional restriction on use of public money.
Several media outlets are reporting that the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks oppose a plan to have the entire Cactus League bankroll the $84 million stadium.
“It’s safe to say all of the other teams in the Cactus League oppose it,” Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall said Friday, referring to teams that train in Arizona. “That’s 14 of us not in line with this move. We want to keep the Cubs here but not at the expense of our fans.”
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Phoenix Business Journal he’s also “opposed” to the proposed deal.
In the past, ticket surcharges were used to help pay for each team’s facility.
There is no indication if the opposition would be a deal-breaker, with the team possibly looking at Collier County again to host spring training. The Cubs recently chose to keep the team’s spring training home in Mesa over a move to Collier County and is negotiating a 25-year agreement, including the construction of a new stadium complex.
Meanwhile, legislation to keep the Cubs’ spring training home in Mesa is taking shape, with state-arranged financing to come from surcharges on tickets and auto rentals.
Rep. John McComish, R-Phoenix, said Friday he will introduce an initial version of the legislation Monday.
Attempts to lure the team to Collier County worry Arizona economic-development officials and business leaders because the Cubs are the highest-drawing spring training team, with 203,105 in attendance in 2009.
“My interest in this is purely economic development,” McComish said.
McComish said some details of the legislation remain in the works, including the surcharge amounts and the possibility of other revenue sources, pending further work that includes meeting with tourism industry representatives.
The chosen financing approach emphasizes having tourists pay for tourism-related facilities, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said.
“This is economic activity that we know is quantifiable,” Smith said.
As outlined by McComish and Smith, the state would arrange $59 million of the new stadium’s projected $84 million cost. Mesa would provide $25 million, repaying voter-approved bonds with money from a sales tax increase, a property tax or another source, Smith said.
The estimated price tag climbs to $119 million with $35 million of “other contributions,” include the Cubs’ purchase of the stadium site for the city, according to an outline provided by publicists for Mesa.
Smith expressed irritation that the proposed ticket surcharge for his city’s project is drawing opposition from teams that use facilities that were funded in part by tax dollars.
Most, if not all, teams that train in Arizona do so in facilities that were built, improved or both at public expense.
“The irony is just delicious when you think of people complain(ing),” Smith said. “This ticket surcharge means that people who attend Cactus League games feed into a fund that basically supports and replenishes Cactus League facilities.”
Also Friday, an attorney for an advocacy organization that recently challenged a Phoenix subsidy for a development project said Mesa’s initial agreement with the Cubs appears to violate a state constitutional restriction on use of public money.
The Arizona Supreme Court’s interpretation in the Phoenix case said the state and local governments must receive direct benefits in exchange for providing subsidies or other spending for private entities and that the direct benefits must be substantial.
Based on the initial agreement, “there’s no way that would fly,” said Carrie Ann Sitren of the Goldwater Institute. “The fortunate thing is that the (agreement) is not final. It says it’s not final. It can be changed. Either can back out of it at this point.”
Smith said he was confident that the city’s agreement with the Cubs complies with the Supreme Court’s holding.
While Smith said direct benefits include the Cubs’ purchase of the stadium site for the city, Sitren said whether that’s truly a benefit to the city depends on terms of the deal. In other deals, “more times than not what we see is the business has the option to buy back the land any time it wants for some absurdly low value,” she said.