MULTIMEDIA: CHICAGO CUBS IN NAPLES?
- AUDIO: Press conference announcing Chicago Cubs to say in Mesa (.mp3)
- PHOTOS: Gov. Crist on the Chicago Cubs
- PHOTOS: Cub mania hits Marco
- PHOTOS: Cubs spring training press conference
- PHOTOS: Chicago Cubs renderings
- CHAT: Editorial Board meeting with Cubs to Collier
- SPECIAL SECTION: Follow all the coverage at the exclusive naplesnews.com "Cubs-to-Naples" page
NAPLES — It’s not over yet.
Officials hoping to bring Chicago Cubs spring training to Collier County are still hopeful as the next deadline to keep the team in Mesa, Ariz., looms.
The city of Mesa has until today to get a financing plan in order to keep the Chicago Cubs in the area for spring training, according to a nonbinding agreement approved earlier this year.
If that deadline isn’t met, the team could end exclusive negotiations with Mesa and begin negotiations with a group of Naples investors hoping to bring the team to Collier County.
By Monday, the city of Mesa:
■ Must approve an agreement in compliance with the earlier, nonbinding agreement;
■ State legislation, meant to help fund the spring training facility, must be enacted;
■ Mesa City Council must call an election for Mesa voters to consider a ballot measure for the project.
Neither Mesa City Manager Chris Brady nor Mayor Scott Smith could be reached for comment on the city’s progress.
The city didn’t meet the legislative deadline, however. The Arizona Legislature adjourned April 30 without passing a measure needed to keep the team in the state.
Mesa officials in June announced a new financing plan for the project, though.
That plan includes a proposed increase in the city’s bed tax on hotel rooms and using city money from special funds that are fed from non-tax revenue sources, such as golf courses.
While Mesa officials have said they believe this new plan is within the constraints of the agreement, Collier officials aren’t so sure.
“The mayor of Mesa is taking the position that their newest proposal meets the conditions of the original (agreement),” said Craig Bouchard, vice chairman of Esmark Inc., one of the two private companies trying to bring the team to Naples. “Our interpretation is that it does not ... therefore, we are back to square one.”
Peter Chase, a spokesman for the Chicago Cubs, said the team declined to comment on the agreement “at this particular time.”
Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors and Chicago-based Esmark Inc. teamed up last year to try to bring the team to Collier County.
The group also said it saw the potential for a public-private partnership, and the project could have been a beneficiary of tourism taxes.
“Our proposal has a foundation of private equity with no real estate or sales taxes paid by the citizens of Collier County,” Bouchard said Friday. “Our proposal will revive Fifth Avenue South and Third (Street South) while adding money to the coffers of the (tourist development council) which can be used for our beaches and museums.”
The team has trained in Mesa for more than 50 years, and announced in January plans to stay there for spring training rather than relocate to Collier County.
That decision, however, is contingent on Mesa securing the funding to build a new $84 million spring training complex.
While Mesa’s newest proposal takes a page from Collier’s book with the use of tourism taxes, the financing plan also includes selling some city-owned rural property in Pinal County. Revenue generated from those sales would be available to replenish the special funds.
Mesa officials said in June that increased property or sales taxes didn’t factor in to the proposal. But Bouchard said the sale of public property is tantamount to using public dollars.
“The Mesa proposal is to sell valuable land owned by their taxpayers to build the Cubs a stadium,” Bouchard said. “As a taxpayer myself, I like our proposal better.”
The city of Mesa isn’t letting any possible roadblocks stand in the way of keeping the Cubs, though.
The city is continuing the search for a new spring training home for the team.
Williams-Gateway, downtown and the westside are some of the Mesa sites that could become the team’s new home.
While the search was narrowed to two eastside locations, Smith has said the site selection process has expanded to include all areas of the city.
This isn’t the last obstacle the city will face if exclusive negotiations continue.
Mesa voters soon will be asked to approve two Cubs-related money issues. The first would increase the bed tax to 5 percent, while the second would allow the city to spend more than $1.5 million on a sports or entertainment venue.
Both of those issues are expected to be on the ballot in November.
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The Associated Press contributed this report.