Game over: Mesa votes to keep Cubs, ending Naples' bid to lure team

Collier County is out.

Arizona voters Tuesday approved two referendums to secure their position as the Chicago Cubs spring training home. That approval effectively ends a local group’s campaign to lure the team away from Mesa, Ariz., and to Collier County.

“We believe the significant economic benefit of landing the Cubs would be worth the investment,” Gary Price, a partner in Fifth Avenue Advisors, said in a statement Wednesday. “The citizens of Mesa, Ariz., believe this to be true as well, and we applaud their resolve in making the investment to retain the team.”

Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors teamed up last year with Craig Bouchard, then vice-chairman of Chicago-based Esmark Inc., to try to bring the team to Collier County.

The team has trained in Mesa for more than 50 years. It announced in January it plans to stay there for spring training rather than relocate to Collier County.

But those plans were contingent on several issues, including voters approving two money-related referendums on Tuesday. Those referendums would allow the city of Mesa to spend more than $1.5 million on a new spring training complex and increase the city’s tourist tax by 2 percent.

Proposition 420 – the referendum that would allow the city to spend more than $1.5 million on the facility – passed with 63.12 percent of the vote, according to the Maricopa County Supervisor of Elections website.

The request to increase the city’s tourist tax to 5 percent also passed with 58.68 percent of the vote, according to the supervisor of elections website.

Both referendums needed a simple majority, or 50 percent plus one, to pass.

“Based on the results of the election we certainly overcame a huge obstacle,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. “We feel good. It shows that our citizens believe in the community, believe in the future of Arizona and voted yes across the board.”

The city has pledged no more than $84 million for stadium and fields, and the East Valley Tribune in September reported the city estimated costs related to parking lots, roadwork and utility lines would be about $15 million.

The spring training complex in Mesa will be paid for through the sale of excess land in Pinal County. The city owns 11,000 acres of farm land in the county – initially purchased to secure water rights for the city – and plans to use that land as leverage to pay for the stadium, Smith has said.

The city will now begin discussions with the Cubs to hammer out details of the final agreement. Smith said the city will “start immediately” working on specific plans for the facility.

Smith said the city isn’t exactly sure when the stadium will open.

“The only thing that we really decided is we’re not going to push it, we’re going to do it right,” he said. “Whether it’s open in time for spring training 2013, I don’t know.”

In October 2009, Price’s group – dubbed Project Homerun by supporters – said its project would have included a 15,000-seat stadium on 120 contiguous acres. The group said they envisioned a private-public partnership that could use some tourist tax dollars to pay for a portion of the project.

Price said he was proud of his group’s efforts and said “enhancing the local economy has always been our goal in this endeavor.”

“We were convinced that attracting a world-wide brand like the Chicago Cubs would be a great fit to our community,” he said in his statement. “Over the past 18 months we believe the effort has brought a great deal of positive national recognition to Collier County and enabled our community to think outside the box.”

Price said his group will continue to maintain a relationship with the team because they “believe in their ability to build a World Series winning ball club, albeit training in Arizona rather than Florida.”

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