Cubs decline Florida invitation

Updated: January 27, 2010, 4:07 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- The Chicago Cubs announced Wednesday that they will keep their spring training home in Mesa, Ariz., a move that rebuffs suitors in Florida and keeps Arizona's highest-drawing spring training team in town.

The deal requires the Arizona Legislature and voters in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, to approve a funding mechanism for an $84 million stadium and training facility.

"We've been in Arizona for 57 years and we look forward to the next 57 years," said Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.

Officials in Naples, Fla., have tried to woo the Cubs from Mesa, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told Ricketts he's willing to go as far as possible to convince the team to move.

Arizona cities in recent years have lured teams from Florida by promising to build new stadiums and expansive practice facilities.

Cities are fighting over the Cubs because they consistently draw loyal fans from Chicago and around the country, even if they're struggling on the field.

In the 2009 spring training season, an average Cubs home game drew 10,690 fans -- nearly double the average for the 14 other teams that train in Arizona. And when the Cubs play on the road, they fill other ballparks as well.

Visiting fans rent cars and hotels, buy dinners and movie tickets, and visit Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

"The Cubs are a home run for our economy, with millions of dollars boosting Arizona," Gov. Jan Brewer said.

The agreement with Mesa means the Cubs will stay for another 25 years.

The team will buy the land and donate it to the city, which plans to build a 15,000-seat stadium and a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse with locker rooms, a nutritional center and other amenities.

The stadium is set to open in 2013. The team will manage it, have naming rights and control of signage, and won't have to share the facility with another team. Adjacent practice fields will be a public park when the Cubs aren't training.

City officials hope the area will develop into what they're calling "Wrigleyville West," an entertainment district with bars, restaurants and stores.

"The Chicago Cubs is a unique brand," said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. "It's a brand that brings passion, that brings commitment, and for some reason has this strange effect on people where they actually open their wallets and deposit their money."

Funding details were sketchy Wednesday as officials said they were still making a plan. Rep. John McComish, a Phoenix Republican who says he will introduce the legislation when it's ready, said it will include a surcharge on spring training game ticket sales and will not draw from general fund revenue.

He declined to discuss other options being discussed.

The agreement means the Cubs will negotiate exclusively with Mesa. But the team will be allowed to back out if legislation isn't enacted by July 12 or if Mesa voters reject it in a November election.

The Mesa City Council unanimously approved the agreement on Monday.

"The team in Naples did a great job through some polling and Web sites to impress on us the support there is," Cubs president Crane Kenney said. "But Arizona has become really sort of the second home for the Cubs and it certainly was a factor."


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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