MESA, Ariz. — The Mesa City Council approved its end of a deal Monday evening to build a new spring training complex, dubbed Wrigleyville West.
The team has told Mesa that it would respond to the offer very quickly after Monday’s action. That’s been widely interpreted as a sign the team will stay in Mesa and not take up an offer from developers for a complex near Naples.
“Well, you know it’s a troubling sentiment coming from me, because the Cubs will have gone to that place because of 57 years of tradition, and because the Ricketts family has a good moral conscience,” said Craig Bouchard, co-founder of Esmark, Inc. one of two investors looking at funding the complex in Naples.
“That attitude and principle is missing in business, so I have to respect it and endorse it,” Bouchard said. “But at the same time, I feel Naples is a better home for the next 30 years and Florida is a better home. I’m not going to give up on it.”
Several Mesa residents blasted the council Monday for spending money on a stadium, noting voters defeated plans for a new Arizona Cardinals stadium here. Some speakers at Monday’s meeting likened a taxpayer-funded stadium to the Wall Street bailout. But Gary Sievers urged city support, singing “Go Cubs Go” with new lyrics “Stay Cubs Stay.”
“Mesa has no baseball rain,” he sang, “Naples’ one big hurricane.”
Mayor Scott Smith rebutted critics by saying the entire point of the new complex is boosting the economy by surrounding the site with businesses that generate jobs and tax revenue that’s now going to other cities.
“I look at this as economic preservation,” Smith said.
Gary Price, a Naples City Councilman and partner with Fifth Avenue Advisors , which is working with Esmark to bring the cubs to Collier County, specifically noted Mesa resident’s comments about using taxpayer dollars.
“It was fascinating to see that the people felt it shouldn’t be built with taxpayer dollars, and it reinforces why we started with not using taxpayer dollars,” Price said. “There is no quit in this team.”
Should the team say “yes” to Mesa, it would agree to exclusive negotiations with the city while the two spend about one year working on a formal agreement to build a complex that the Cubs have sought for nearly a year.
The complex would rival new ones in the West Valley, allowing the city and the Cubs to make more money from surrounding shops, hotels and restaurants.
The complex is key to the Ricketts family, which bought the team three months ago with promises of winning a World Series by providing world-class facilities for the players and fans.
Mesa is banking on other benefits.
The city hopes it can get another team to Mesa, at the Hohokam and Fitch Park facilities the Cubs have used for decades. Those places don’t fully meet the needs of the Cubs, the biggest draw in the Cactus League, but city officials say teams with smaller fan bases would likely find them attractive.
Part of Mesa’s deal with the Cubs requires that the team will help attract a team here.
The team has narrowed its new home to one of two sites along the Loop 202 Freeway in east Mesa. The 100-acre plus complex would cost about $84 million and include a stadium of 13,000-15,000 seats, practice fields and commercial development.
The deal came together with the help of state elected officials, who feared losing the Cactus League’s most popular team. The Cubs’ presence generates $52 million a year, money many surrounding cities share through hotel stays and tourism activities.
Mesa is confident two key future actions will fall into place. The Arizona Legislature must approve a bill for tourism taxes to fund part of the complex, and Mesa voters must approve two ballot measures. A vote is likely in November.
Tourism taxes and money from the Cubs would fund part of the facilities. City money would fund part of the project that would be used by the team during spring training but open to the public the rest of the year.
Bouchard noted that even if Mesa negotiations begin, the final score is still a long way off.
“I think we’re in roughly the fifth inning of the game,” Bouchard said. “We’ve got a long ways to go yet.”
Staff writer Matt Clark contributed to this story.