Updated 7:45 p.m.
A decision is on the horizon.
But Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday assured Chicago Cubs fans that Collier County isn’t out of the spring training running quite yet.
“Where we are today is in the running,” Crist said from the pitcher’s mound during a press conference Friday at Cambier Park. “It would be a wonderful, wonderful thing to have the Chicago Cubs in Collier County.”
Crist’s press conference came one day after news organizations across the country began reporting that the team had already chosen to stay in Mesa, Ariz., its spring training home for the past 50 years.
Officials with the city of Mesa and the Collier County group trying to bring the team to Florida for spring training have said they have not received word about a spring training decision.
Crist also debunked rumors Friday, saying he spoke to the team’s owners Thursday and was told no decision had been made.
“(The owners) told me, ‘You know governor, you’re going to see some things coming out in the press but no decision has been made,’” Crist said.
Peter Chase, a team spokesman, on Friday confirmed that Cubs owners have not yet decided on a spring training home.
Crist said the state is willing to do “anything that we can do to further induce the Cubs to come.”
“Naples sells itself,” he went on to say. “Naples sells itself. Where would you rather be, in a desert or right by the water?”
Bill Wolf, a part-time Barefoot Beach resident and Chicago native, said he still thought there was a 55 percent chance the Cubs would choose Naples.
“I think the Cubs belong here,” Wolf said. “I don’t think it’s dead. It’s a very smart move. I think they would enjoy a reason to make a ... change.”
But Craig Bouchard, vice chairman of Esmark, Inc., which is part of the group working to bring the Chicago Cubs to Collier County, didn’t seem as sure Friday.
“This isn’t going to be over for quite some time,” Bouchard said. “I think we are going into second place instead of being tied for first.’’
Bouchard did note the differences in the Collier County proposal that is driven by private funding, with the possibility of some help from local and state government — and Mesa’s proposal, which only local and state dollars to pay for the project.
“I think this is a difficult time to ask taxpayers for $84 million,” Bouchard said. “If they get it done, I salute them.”
Bouchard said if the team can’t make the financing happen, though, his group will be ready to step up to the plate.
Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors and Chicago-based Esmark, Inc. teamed up last year to try lure the team to Collier County.
The Collier group has said the project would require 120 contiguous acres and would include a 15,000-seat stadium and the club’s main offices.
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.
Chase said Friday the club is still operating under the same timetable — no later than next week — to make a decision.
Staff writers Brent Batten and Eric Staats contributed to this report.
Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna-buzzacco
Updated 2:30 p.m.
Gov. Charlie Crist announced at Rookery Bay in Collier County this afternoon that he will recommend $2.1 billion in next year’s budget for environmental initiatives.
The money includes $50 million to restart the Florida Forever environmental lands purchasing program, $10 million for solar energy rebates and $30.4 million for grants to assist local governments, state agencies and citizens with energy efficiency-projects.
Crist’s budget also proposes $50 million for Everglades restoration.
“Florida will have a cleaner, safer environment that will endure for generations to come,” he said.
Afterward, regarding the finalist for a Collier County School Board seat to replace departing Richard Calabrese, who is stepping down for medical reasons, Crist said he doesn’t presently have a favorite and that all of those under consideration convinced him they are passionate about education.
The governor will fill the seat via an appointment.
On another matter, Crist said news headlines about the Cubs not coming to Collier County and staying in Mesa for spring training jump the gun. Crist said he had talked to Cubs owners Thursday and they assured him they hadn’t yet made any decisions.
At Cambier Park, waiting for Crist’s arrival, Craig Bouchard, point man in the effort to wrest Cubs spring training from Mesa, Ariz., in favor of Naples, said the Cubs haven’t made an official announcement.
“This isn’t going to be over for quite some time,” Bouchard said, acknowledging that Mesa is leading in the race to land the Cubs for the team’s future spring training.
“I think we are going into second place instead of being tied for first,’’ Bouchard said.
He said the Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, have demonstrated their sense of loyalty.
“Thank God for the Cubs that they have owners like that,’’ he said.
Bouchard said he expects to hear a final decision after Monday, when the Mesa spring training complex proposal is decided upon by the Cubs ownership family.
Gov. Charlie Crist has arrived at Rookery Bay and soon will begin his remarks. About 350 people are in attenance.
Gov. Charlie Crist has arrived in Naples for a day-long series of events starting at Edison College.
In remarks as he arrived, Crist said he's interviewing six candidates to fill former Collier School Board member Richard Calabrese's vacant seat. Calabrese resigned effective Dec. 31 citing health reasons.
"I'm just looking for good people with a good heart who care about children and care about education," Crist said.
He said he could make a decision about who to appoint next week.
The candidates waiting for an interview outside the college president's office iare retired Naples police detective Joe Whitehead; retired Palmetto Ridge High School principal Roy Terry; Professional Building Systems project manager Mario Valle; Cheryl Couture, president of the Southwest Florida 9/12 Project, Karen Acquard, a grandmother who serves on the Big Corkscrew Island Firefighters Association and James Guerrero, a self-employed contractor.
Florida Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, and Collier County commissioner Tom Henning also are at the Edison College campus in East Naples to greet the governor this morning.
Members of the Student Government Association at Edison College shook hands with Crist as he walked into the administration building this morning. They were hoping to get a photo with Crist after the interviews.
"Not everyone has a chance to meet the governor," said Flor Martinez, 19, an SGA senator.
Crist is scheduled to make remarks at a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony for a pedestrian bridge over Henderson Creek at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
He is expected to roll out his 2010 budget for environmental programs, including money to restart the Florida Forever land acquisition and preservation progran,
At 2:15 this afternoon, Crist has scheduled a press conference at Cambier Park in downtown Naples to talk about Major League spring training.
A Naples group has been trying to woo the Chicago Cubs away from their longtime spring training home in Mesa, Ariz.,