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SBJ/20100913/This Weeks Issue
Cubs campaigning to stay in Mesa
Published September 13, 2010
The Chicago Cubs and a community coalition from Mesa, Ariz., have started an aggressive campaign aimed at keeping the club in its spring training home city.
The push, led by a group called Keep the Cubs — Yes on 420, is being launched in advance of a crucial November stadium vote. The goal is passage of a proposition that would allow Mesa to spend up to $84 million on a new spring training stadium for the MLB franchise.
The Cubs, who boast the best average attendance in the Cactus League, contend that they have outgrown their current home of Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, about 20 miles east of Phoenix. They are aiming to create a large, mixed-use development dubbed Wrigleyville West adjacent to a new ballpark.
Hohokam Stadium in its current form opened in 1997 but has been a spring training site since the mid-1970s.
Tactical efforts in the campaign include a series of public events, including a youth clinic scheduled for today with Cubs hall of famer Ferguson Jenkins, speaking appearances by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, traditional media, and a full-throttle digital media push, with a website (KeeptheCubs.com), a Twitter feed (@keepthecubs), and a Facebook destination.
“We want to stay in Mesa and we need the voters’ help,” said Mike Lufrano, Cubs senior vice president of community affairs and general counsel. “We’re looking forward to providing information to the voters and obviously are hopeful of being successful on Nov. 2.”
The coalition is being led by public affairs and political strategy outfit HighGround Inc. The Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau and the local Little League organization are also involved, along with other local entities. The Cubs and Hunt Construction are providing major funding, but financial specifics were not available.
Hunt Construction, with its corporate office in Scottsdale, 15 miles northwest of Mesa, has been active in several Phoenix-area sports projects, including Chase Field and US Airways Center.
Proposition 420 includes a proposed increase in Mesa hotel taxes and seeks authorization for the city to use municipal economic development funds for the ballpark. The surrounding development, designed as a year-round destination, would be funded by the Cubs and private investors.
The Cubs’ presence in Mesa for spring training is estimated to provide more than $130 million in annual economic impact. Not only are Cubs home spring training games a consistently strong draw, but the club’s broad popularity also helps fill other Cactus League parks for Cubs away games.
The Cubs have trained in Arizona since 1952 with the exception of the 1966 season. They have been in Mesa since 1979 and from 1952 to ’65 before that.
“Voters definitely get the economic impact. They know the Cubs are a major force here,” said Robert Brinton, Mesa CVB president and chief executive and former Cactus League president. “What they don’t get right now is that these spring training facilities are now truly year-round hubs, between rehab assignments, tryouts, draft preparation and a whole host of other activities, so there’s education on our part that needs to be done.”
Last year, the Cubs negotiated on a similar spring training project with Naples, Fla., before electing to devote their energies to Mesa. It is expected that if the vote fails, Naples will mount a revived bid. The Cubs, in a memorandum of understanding with Mesa, can keep playing at Hohokam Stadium if the vote fails but are not locked in for a set time, according to industry sources. A successful vote would create a new long-term agreement for the Cubs to remain in Mesa.
The locally driven financing plan from Mesa replaces a failed state-driven effort that would have generated funds in part by taxing tickets on other Cactus League games. That measure was strongly opposed by the other MLB teams that train in Arizona, as well as by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.