NAPLES — The frenzy over the Chicago Cubs spring training home ramped up Thursday.
Several media organizations — including the Chicago Tribune and ESPN — reported the team had chosen to stay in Mesa, Ariz., rather than relocate to Collier County.
But spokesmen for both the Collier County coalition and the city of Mesa said they were unaware of such a decision.
“We haven’t heard anything from the Cubs officially and we’re waiting for their response,” said Gary Price, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, the group working to bring the Chicago Cubs to Collier County.
Mesa City Manager Chris Brady echoed Price’s remarks, saying his community has not been told whether the team is staying.
“We have not gotten any word from the Cubs,” Brady said.
The rumors could have been prompted by a Mesa decision Thursday to release copies of a non-binding agreement that acts as the city’s final proposal to the team.
Mesa City Council on Monday is expected to approve the agreement during a City Council meeting, but Brady said approval of this contract doesn’t necessarily guarantee the team is staying in Mesa.
“We said this is too important, and we wanted to get this out on the street,” Brady said. “We put a lot of effort into this. This is very important to Mesa, Ariz.”
Peter Chase, a spokesman for the Chicago Cubs, said Thursday the timetable for a spring training decision — no later than next week — remains the same, but the team is interested in hearing what Mesa has to offer.
“The Cubs are interested in reading through Mesa’s proposal and having our board take it under review,” Chase said in an e-mail.
Still, the rumors concerned sports radio host and Naples Daily News columnist Dave Moulton, whose column last year sparked the Cubs to Collier campaign.
“I’m surprised and bummed,” Moulton said about rumors. “I’m surprised because a week ago they were coming. So something changed.”
Mesa’s decision to release the agreement comes one day after the Collier contingent released an economic impact study that projects spring training will bring in around $36 million a year to the county.
The study — prepared by Fifth Avenue Advisors and Davidson-Peterson Associates — outlines potential direct spending by visiting fans attending Cubs spring training games.
It does not take into account the revenue generated by minor league games or any other uses of a stadium, said Craig Lyon, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors.
“This is a very conservative number,” Lyon said. “We want to under promise and over deliver.”
Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisor and Chicago-based Esmark, Inc. teamed up last year to try and bring the team to Collier County.
The Collier group in October said the project would require 120 contiguous acres and would include a 15,000-seat stadium and the club’s main offices.
The group has also said it saw the potential for a public-private partnership, and that the project could be a beneficiary of tourism taxes. A public-private partnership would allow the county to own the stadium.
The Mesa plan calls for a municipally-owned spring training stadium that could seat anywhere from 13,500 to 15,000 people.
The stadium will cost approximately $84 million. Officials in both Maricopa County and the state of Arizona would need to approve the funding for such a venture.
The Cubs have an economic impact of about $52 million a year for the entire state of Arizona, said Mesa spokesman Kevin Christopher. There’s no specific information available for the city itself.
Lyon said a Mesa economic impact study released in June shows the state would lose $50 million a year if the Cubs were to leave Arizona and be replaced by an average team.
“The true economic impact is more than $50 million,” Lyon said. “It’s not apples to apples. It’s apples and oranges. We’re trying to set the baseline here to begin our own analysis.”
Gov. Charlie Crist also weighed in on the spring training drama, echoing earlier comments about the importance of luring the Cubs to Florida.
Crist said Thursday it’s a golden opportunity for the state to land a cherished professional sports franchise that would bring jobs and boost the economy while providing entertainment at the same time.
Fifth Avenue Advisor’s economic impact study estimates the project would create and support 748 jobs in Collier County. The team currently supports more than 600 jobs in Mesa.
Lyon on Thursday afternoon was still optimistic about Collier County’s chances to land the Cubs.
“It’s still about a 50-50 battle,” Lyon said. “I think they have (to decide between) the tradition of being in Mesa and the welcoming arms of new community here.”
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The Associated Press and staff writer Greg Hardwig contributed to this report.
Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna-buzzacco