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 — Collier County is out.
Naples officials hoping to bring the Chicago Cubs to Collier County for spring training said on Tuesday they withdrew their spring training proposal.
The decision comes after the group — dubbed Project Homerun — was unable to get the assurances it needed from team president Crane Kenney to continue with their work.
Those assurances, said Gary Price, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, one of the two private companies trying to lure the Cubs from Mesa, Ariz., included an exclusive negotiation period similar to what was afforded to Mesa.
“They decided not to give us that,” Price said after conversation with Kenney. “We’ve decided to take our proposal and our efforts off the table.”
Kenney, in a statement, said the team appreciates the group’s efforts.
“Naples is a world-class city and could undoubtedly provide our organization and fans an exceptional facility and experience,” Kenney said. “Despite the opportunity that exists in Naples, for the time being we will continue our work in Mesa to build a new spring training facility there.”
Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors and Chicago-based Esmark Inc. teamed up last year to try to bring the team to Collier County.
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.
Project Homerun’s announcement comes one day after a so-called exclusivity period with Mesa was set to end.
The city of Mesa had until Monday to get a financing plan in order to keep the Chicago Cubs in the area for spring training.
Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said Tuesday the city met the deadline “when Mesa announced it’s financing plan” in June.
“We’ve spent the last two weeks meeting with the Cubs negotiating out the final agreement,” Brady said. “They’re acting and behaving like we’re working out the final agreement (and) we’ve been very active in discussions with them.”
That financing 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.
But Craig Bouchard, vice chairman of Esmark Inc., said last week his group did not believe the new financing plan met the specifications set forth in the agreement since state funding was not included in plan.
Price said his group is disappointed with the decision to pull out “because we think it would’ve been great.”
Bouchard said the group remains interested in future opportunities.
“I’m very appreciative of the support we received from business and political leadership of the state and county,” Bouchard said. “If we engage again it will only be on terms very favorable to our community.”
Collier may be out now, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t a chance for the Cubs to come to Collier County, said Ron Matejko, a longtime sports reporter, and co-owner and editor of MVP Today.
Mesa still has one major hurdle to overcome: Making sure Mesa voters are on board with building a new spring training facility for the team.
Mesa voters in November will need to approve two Cubs-related money issues before the project can be completed.
“That vote is going to be what determines it,” Matejko said. “At this point that looks like the final hurdle the city is going to have to clear (and) if for some reason that falls through, that could open the door for somebody.”
That could be Collier County. Price said Tuesday his group would need to evaluate whether to get back in the race if the referendums fail in November.
But for the time being, Price said his team isn’t “going to put anymore time into this.”
“We don’t want to compete with Mesa,” he said. “We already showed the Cubs what we have to offer, and we feel like we’ve done a good job putting in our best effort.”