SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue

Big Election Day victory keeps Cubs in Mesa

The Chicago Cubs intend in about the next six months to name an architect and contractor for their forthcoming Wrigleyville West spring training complex in Mesa, Ariz., after a surprisingly strong Election Day result favoring the project.

Local voters last week, by a 63 percent to 37 percent majority, approved a measure calling for the city to provide up to $99 million in public funds to keep the Cubs in Mesa, where they have trained continuously for 32 years and 46 years overall. The planned new ballpark will anchor a large, mixed-use development aimed in part at re-creating the lively game-day atmosphere around Wrigley Field.


GETTY IMAGES

The Chicago Cubs have made their spring
home in Mesa, Ariz., for 46 years.

The nearly 2-to-1 vote in favor of the effort far surpassed many other votes for sports facilities supported by public funds, both large and small. The Cubs, with the support of Mesa city officials and political strategy outfit HighGround Inc., conducted an aggressive campaign that blended traditional tactics with social media efforts, along with frequent in-person visits from team owner Tom Ricketts and his family.

“We are obviously just so grateful and gratified with this result, and 63 percent went beyond even some of our expectations,” said Mike Lufrano, Cubs senior vice president of community affairs and general counsel, and a key figure in the campaign efforts. “This really underscores the value of the Cubs to this area and the value of the investment we’re looking to make. Mesa really stepped up, no question.”

The Cubs, a consistently strong Cactus League attendance draw, are estimated to provide more than $130 million in annual economic impact to Mesa and the surrounding communities.

The Mesa victory ends an extended period of uncertainty in which the Cubs had discussed a potential spring training move to Naples, Fla. A separate, state-driven plan for the club to stay in Arizona based in part on taxing tickets for other Cactus League games died in the face of widespread opposition, including from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

Mesa will spend up to $84 million on the new stadium, and the team will pay facility costs beyond that. Infrastructure improvements such as parking lots, roadwork and utility lines, also to be publicly funded, will cost an additional $15 million.

The public funds are coming from an increase in Mesa hotel taxes and an authorization for the city to use municipal economic development funds on the ballpark. The additional Wrigleyville West development components will be privately funded by the club.

With the Election Day success, work is already under way to prepare for formal design work and a beginning to construction. Requests for proposal will likely go out in the next two months for architects and contractors, with a selection on both likely by around Opening Day. From there, a groundbreaking later in 2011 is planned, and an opening sometime in 2013.

“We’re clearly now going to put a much greater amount of detail into the plan,” Lufrano said. “There’s a lot of work and planning that needs to happen yet, but this is obviously what we were looking for. It’s a big day for us and a big day for Mesa.”

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