The group lobbying to keep Chicago Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz. has about $350,000 at its disposal.
It also has the support of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks _ something money can’t buy. Or can it?
In January, the Hall of Fame shortstop voted most popular Cub of all time in 1968 met with Craig Bouchard of Naples, one of the principals in the effort to lure Cubs spring training to Collier County.
He sounded upbeat and supportive of the idea, telling Bouchard at one point, “Find a way that the Cubs can play in Naples.”
More recently however, Banks has been in Mesa campaigning for Proposition 420, the ballot initiative to be voted on today that would give that city the leeway to use up to $99 million in tourist tax and other public funding to build the team a new complex there.
Liz Banks, Ernie Banks’ wife and president of the marketing firm 500 Home Run Club, said her husband has been speaking in his capacity as an employee of the Cubs. “You have to understand. Ernie is just like you. If you’re a paid employee of theirs, can you say, ‘No?’ That’s what this is.”
She said Ernie Banks has continued as an employee of the Cubs beyond his retirement from playing in 1971, a total of 57 years with the team.
Beyond getting Banks on board with support for Proposition 420, the Cubs are spending heavily to make their case.
Of the nearly $350,000 the group Keep the Cubs has raised, just over $200,000 has come directly from the Cubs.
Through Oct. 14, the latest filing period available, the group had spent nearly $240,000 of its war chest on mailings, billboards, TV ads and consultants.
To what effect?
There is no publicly available polling to show how Proposition 420 is faring with Mesa voters.
Robert Kammrath, spokesman for the Mesa Taxpayers Alliance, which opposes Proposition 420, said he’s been searching for such data. “I have asked if there’s been any polls done and I’ve been told there haven’t. I suspect there have been privately funded polls, just to see how things are going.”
One source claiming knowledge of private Proposition 420 polling said support has dropped to around 30 percent.
Last winter and spring, when Bouchard, Naples City Council member and businessman Gary Price and others were actively pursuing the Cubs, their plans called for tourist tax revenue to be used to build a complex for the team.
In spite of initial skepticism from county commissioners, the idea seemed to be getting traction, thanks in large part to the support of hoteliers who would have to bear the burden higher taxes would put on their industry.
The landscape has changed since then, mainly because of the Jackson Laboratory proposal to tap taxpayer funding to build a biomedical research complex in eastern Collier County.
Tourist tax money isn’t a potential source of revenue for the Jackson Lab proposal, but sentiment against taxpayer support of private enterprise has been stoked by the ongoing controversy.
The projects are similar in that they tout public financing as a seed that will promote economic development and an ultimate benefit to taxpayers.
The Jackson Lab train is headed down the tracks and now has a considerable head start on any Cubs initiative that might rekindle should Proposition 420 fail in Mesa.
After a bruising fight to get the Jackson Lab project going, are commissioners likely to be eager to embark on a second project before any fruits from the first are realized?
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten