Governor, others throw support behind Cubs move to Collier County

NDN Editorial meeting with Cubs to Collier group

A wrap-up of the major points associated ...

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— The group trying to bring the Chicago Cubs to Collier County has received support from more than a dozen Florida officials and business leaders.

The group on Wednesday released copies of 18 letters — including ones from Gov. Charlie Crist, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, the Economic Development Council of Collier County and the Collier County Hotel and Lodging Association — all supporting spring training in Collier County.

The decision to release the letters comes just days before the 25th annual Chicago Cubs convention.

“I believe these letters are critical to our effort,” said Craig Bouchard, vice chairman of Esmark Inc. “They are from very important business organizations as well as from (politicians) in our state. It was humbling to receive such a strong show of support.”

Those letters of support have already been delivered to team officials, said Gary Price, a partner with Fifth Avenue Advisors.

Esmark Inc. and Fifth Avenue Advisors have teamed up to bring the team to Collier County for spring training.

“We wanted to give them to the Cubs prior to the decision so they can see there’s support from lots of people in this community,” Price said.

Bouchard said in an interview Wednesday he expected a decision sometime early next week, possibly as early as Monday.

Mesa, Ariz., City Manager Chris Brady said Thursday he was told the Chicago Cubs board of directors would discuss spring training during a meeting today.

Brady said no specific date was given about when a decision would be announced.

Peter Chase, a club spokesman, said in an e-mail Thursday a date has not been set for a spring training announcement.

“The club still expects to make an announcement sometime this month,” he said. “There is no precise date at this time.”

The team has trained in Mesa for about 50 years.

Price said the letters are meant to show the team there is support for spring training in Collier County.

“Mesa has 40 years of people who support the Cubs there, we want to try to show the team the significant support they have in (this) community,” he said.

While the majority of letters come from politicians, the group also received letters of support from the Economic Development Council of Collier County and the Collier County Hotel and Lodging Association.

“The Economic Development Council of Collier County is pleased to support the ongoing efforts to explore in more depth the exciting possibility of a new, state-of-the-art ballpark within Collier County,” read the Jan. 6 letter from EDC Chairman William O’Neill. “Presuming the apparent benefits are borne out, the EDC will enthusiastically support the decision to move forward and see the Cubs ownership’s decision to become a reality.”

The county’s lodging association also supported the move, and said it would support the use of the county’s tourist tax to help bring the team to Collier County. That letter could prove critical, since the Collier County group has said it is studying whether tourist dollars can be used for the project.

The tourist tax — commonly known as the bed tax — is a 4 percent tax levied on all rental income received from accommodations rented for six months or less.

No formal request has been made and tourism dollars cannot be given to a private entity.

Once a decision regarding spring training is made, either the Mesa or the Collier County group would have 120 days to secure funding and tie up loose ends.

While both Price and Bouchard have said they think there is a 50-50 chance the Cubs will choose Collier County, Brady said he’s unsure about what the decision will actually be.

“This is an interesting process that Major League teams like to choose to do,” Brady said. “I think it’s very competitive.”

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Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna-buzzacco

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Here’s what some Floridians have to say in support of Chicago Cubs spring training in Collier County:

■ Gov. Charlie Crist: “As governor of the State of Florida I am pleased to reiterate to the Chicago Cubs that should the Cubs decide to move forward with a new, state-of-the-art facility within Collier County, I will enthusiastically support this decision and do everything possible to make it a reality. We understand the Cubs are not just a Major League Baseball, or professional sports, franchise. Instead, the Chicago Cubs have legions of fans throughout Florida, the United States and the world.”

■ Larry Pendleton, president and CEO of the Florida Sports Foundation: “It’s been quite some time since the Cubs called Florida home for the months of February and March, over 90 years to be exact, when the team was in Tampa from 1913-1916. The Cubs would be a welcome addition to this annual tradition of baseball in Florida.”

■ U.S. Rep. Connie Mack: “The Chicago Cubs enjoy a similar strong following in Southwest Florida, and indeed, the entire state. I’m confident that during your analysis, you will find that a Cubs spring training facility in our region will ultimately benefit your organization and fan base.”

■ State Rep. Matt Hudson: “Florida has played a leading role with Major League Baseball for decades and millions of fans have had the enjoyment of watching America’s favorite past-time in the Sunshine State at Grapefruit League games. The state of Florida regards baseball as one of our prime drivers of tourism and the economy, and we welcome any opportunity to enhance the quality of life of our citizens and tourists.”

■ State Rep. Doug Holder: “Having the Cubs in Southwest Florida will add to the incredible lineup of (National League) Central (Division) teams already here. Major League Baseball teams always enjoy the benefits of playing in Florida.”

■ William O’Neill, chairman of the Economic Development Council of Collier County: “The Chicago Cubs represent one of America’s greatest sports franchises, which in years past have enjoyed a strong following throughout the state of Florida, Naples and Southwest Florida, in particular.

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