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NAPLES — They may have three strikes against them, but the Collier group hoping to bring the Chicago Cubs to the county said Wednesday they aren’t necessarily out.
“We’re not quitting on the Cubs,” Gary Price, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, said Wednesday.
Team officials Wednesday announced they planned to stay in Mesa, Ariz., for spring training.
That move comes nearly a year after news organizations initially reported the team was looking to move its spring training facilities, and about four months after a group of Collier County investors said it was trying to lure the team to Collier County.
“We’re looking at what’s best for the team for the next 57 years,” team owner Tom Ricketts said during a Phoenix press conference Wednesday. “We’ve always had a great relationship with Mesa.”
The Cubs will now begin exclusive negotiations with the city, and Price said Wednesday his group will stop pursuing land entitlements and zoning changes unless the Mesa deal falls through.
Craig Bouchard, vice chairman of Esmark, Inc., one of the groups trying to bring the team to Collier County, said that had it not been for that decades-long relationship, the Cubs would have chosen Collier County long ago.
Crane Kenney, president of the Chicago Cubs, said that tradition is what helped push Mesa ahead.
“As we got more and more into it, (Naples) became a very real opportunity and one we enjoyed exploring,” he said. “But the tradition we have here in Arizona earned them the first look.”
The Mesa deal requires the Arizona Legislature and voters in Mesa to approve a funding mechanism for an $84 million stadium and training facility.
That’s significantly different from Collier County’s proposal, said both Price and Bouchard. While the proposal has not been made public, the Collier group has said they envisioned a public-private partnership, where neither property nor sales tax dollars would be used.
“This is a different time in the United States, (and) our project has private investors with some public money,” Bouchard said. “Their project is on the backs of the taxpayers.”
The group had explored the option of using a portion of the tourist tax to finance 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.
The project would have benefited from an initiative Gov. Charlie Crist announced earlier in the week to provide $15 million in sales tax revenue for spring training facilities.
Crist said in a statement Wednesday that “Florida stands ready to step in,” if negotiations with Mesa don’t pan out.
“Today’s decision by the Chicago Cubs to exclusively negotiate with Arizona officials ends one phase of their pursuit of a new spring training home and begins another,” he said. “The dedicated civic leaders involved with Project Home Run! and the State of Florida remain ready to bring the Cubs to Naples should the remaining hurdles to a binding agreement not be overcome.”
Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, who supported the project, said he didn’t think Wednesday’s announcement was the last Collier residents will hear about the project.
“I like the Cubs and I don’t think this is over yet,” he said.
Spring training in Collier County would have generated at least $36 million a year in revenue, according to a report released last week.
“It certainly would’ve been great to get the Cubs here,” said Collier tourism director Jack Wert. “But we certainly knew it would be a long-shot for it to happen.”
Having the Chicago Cubs in Collier County would have had a positive impact on spring training in Lee County, said Lee County baseball consultant John Yarbrough.
“We were hoping they’d come here. It was a long short to begin with, but it would’ve been great for Southwest Florida,” he said.
Yarbrough said the Cubs would have brought increased interest to City of Palms Park, since any Major League Baseball team that would move into the stadium “would’ve been guaranteed three or four games each with the Cubs or Red Sox.”
That means, Yarbrough said, “good attention and good revenue” for teams in Southwest Florida.
The Boston Red Sox currently call City of Palms Park home but a new complex is being built for the team elsewhere in Lee County. The Minnesota Twins also call Fort Myers their spring training home.
Kenney said that after visiting the Naples area several times, he was surprised that Naples hadn’t tapped into spring training yet.
“They have a great community there,” he said.
The Collier group on Wednesday said it was not pursuing any other Major League team, and that the group remains committed to bring the Cubs to Collier.
“I know (Collier County) is the best place for (the team),” Bouchard said. “They could be one of six (teams) in Mesa, or one of one in Naples. I encourage people to stick with it.”
The Associated Press and staff writers I.M. Stackel and Charlie Whitehead contributed to this report.
Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna-buzzacco
POSTED AT 12:50 P.M.
The Chicago Cubs picked Mesa over Naples, FL as their long-term spring training home because of decades of sellout crowds and a good working relationship with Mesa officials.
"It's always been our intention to not fix what's not broken," new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said, citing 57 years of successful spring trainings in Mesa, where the Cubs also base many of their year-round player development efforts. "We're looking at what's best for the team for the next 57 years. We've always had a great relationship with Mesa."
But Mesa has no time to gloat over its victory. To follow through on a deal to build the team a new $84 million stadium and state-of-the-art practice facilities, the Legislature and Mesa voters must approve funding sources.
The East Valley Tribune in Mesa also has reported this afternoon that the Cubs will stay in Arizona:
The Chicago Cubs made it official Wednesday – they’re staying in Mesa.
The team’s owners, Tom and Laura Ricketts, along with team president Crane Kenney, joined Gov. Jan Brewer, city officials, Cubs fans and local dignitaries at the Capitol on Wednesday morning, saying they’ll build a new spring training complex in Mesa despite a competing bid from Florida.
Keep checking EVTrib.com (http://www.eastvalleytribune.com) for details as they emerge, and follow our full timeline of Cubs coverage (http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/page/chicagocubs).