DAVID MOULTON COLUMN
Collier not giving up on Chicago Cubs
Owners say Cubs will stay in Mesa, ...
NAPLES — Proposed legislation could be a game-changer for Arizona officials hoping to keep the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Ariz.
The legislation – introduced in the Arizona House of Representatives earlier this year – would increase the state’s rental car tax and charge Cactus League patrons a ticket surcharge to help build the team a new stadium.
The proposed legislation has its critics.
Among them is an Arizona watchdog group that is concerned a preliminary memorandum of understanding between the Chicago Cubs and the city of Mesa isn’t in the best interest of Arizona taxpayers.
And the watchdog group is questioning whether it all stays within the limits of Arizona law.
The debate is drawing interest in Southwest Florida because the Cubs in January announced plans to stay in Mesa — the team’s spring training home for more than 50 years — rather than relocate to Collier County.
That decision, however, is contingent on the city of Mesa securing the funding to build a new $84 million spring training complex.
Arizona Rep. John McComish, R-Phoenix, earlier this year introduced legislation that could generate $81 million over 25 years.
A portion of that money would go toward the team’s $84 million stadium, said Carrie Ann Sitren, an attorney for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute.
“The way the bill is written it doesn’t mention the Cubs or the city of Mesa, where they play,” she said. “I think the idea is that they’ll create these new taxes to help the Cactus League in general.”
The legislation would add a $1 surcharge to car-rental fees in Maricopa County and an 8 percent surcharge to all Cactus League tickets.
Several Cactus League teams — including the Chicago White Sox and the Arizona Diamondbacks — have objected to the plan.
“The other teams object, but based on what we have heard from them, they object to them knowing that they are part of the group of recipients,” she said. “They’re not interested and they know that the Cubs are the team this is written for.”
And the fact that the legislation was created in light of the Cubs announcement could create problems of its own, Sitren said.
The Goldwater Institute has been a vocal critic of plans to help finance the Cubs spring training facility since legislation was first announced earlier this year.
The legislation — paired with the city’s preliminary memorandum of understanding with the team — pushes the limits of an Arizona law banning communities from supporting private companies.
The state has a gift clause, which bans cities from giving subsidies to private companies.
“The idea is that taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be going to hand-picked businesses, especially when we have small businesses that never (get picked),” she said.
But it’s not just the pending legislation that’s raising eyebrows at the Goldwater Institute.
Sitren said her organization has concerns with the memorandum of understanding between the city of Mesa and the team.
The memorandum acts as a preliminary contract and outlines the conditions under which the team would stay in Mesa. Those conditions include a time line for completion, stipulations and naming rights.
“The way it looks right now is completely one-sided for the Cubs,” she said. “But it’s all for the benefit of the Cubs, and so the Cubs can make a profit and nothing is being provided (to the city) in return.”
The Cubs do bring in about $52 million a year for the state. There is no data available on the team’s direct economic impact on Mesa.
Gary Price, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, one of the two private companies trying to woo the team to Naples, said he wasn’t entirely surprised the Arizona proposal has been met with some resistance.
“We knew this was going to be a tough process,” Price said. “I didn’t know any of this was going to happen. I just knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors and Chicago-based Esmark Inc. teamed up last year to try to bring the team to Collier County.
The Collier group in October said the project would require 120 contiguous acres and would include a 15,000-seat stadium and the club’s main offices.
The group also said it saw the potential for a public-private partnership, and that the project could have been a beneficiary of tourism taxes.
Price said his group isn’t commenting on what was happening in Arizona, but knows the plan may be a hard sell.
“The challenge that I see is it’s tough in this environment in Arizona for them to figure out how to pay for this thing,” he said. “I think we’re in a period where we’re seeing there’s a new model to see how communities bring baseball to town.”
Price said while his group is still optimistic, they know it’s unlikely the team will strike out in Mesa.
Sitren is also optimistic, and said she thinks the city and state will likely come to a resolution that is acceptable to all parties.
“My hope is that they will be able to work something out,” she said. “The ball is more in the Cubs’ court (since) the Cubs are the one receiving everything. If they’re going to be willing to offer something back to the public, I certainly think something’s going to happen.”