The Chicago Cubs are starting their campaign to win a Nov. 2 election that would let it and the city build a massive new spring training complex dubbed Wrigleyville West.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said Thursday he and team officials will blanket Mesa to speak with community leaders, Little League parents – and voters.
“We’re making ourselves available to talk to everybody and hopefully we can keep the momentum going,” Ricketts said.
The team needs voter support because of a city charter provision that requires approval for sports facilities that cost more than $1.5 million. The stadium and training fields will cost about $84 million, split by the team and the city. The surrounding commercial development would be privately funded.
Ricketts acknowledged Arizona’s been hit by the recession but said the team is pitching the economic benefits of building a baseball destination.
The team already has players training here all year and wants to expand the Cubs experience to include more activities for children, some kind of museum or memorabilia collection and places for fans to linger before and after games.
“We obviously are aware of the situation in Arizona and respect that things haven’t been easy the last few years but from our standpoint, we think that if we do it right, this is a way to put dollars in the economy,” Ricketts said. “Just because things are going sideways right now in the economy doesn’t mean you stop planning for the future. I mean, we’re talking bout 30 more years of Cubs baseball in Mesa.”
Ricketts, a lifelong Cubs fan who met his wife at Wrigley Field in Chicago, met with the Tribune’s editorial board Thursday to discuss the campaign.
The team’s Mesa ties date to the 1950s but its future came into question last summer as developer in Naples, Fla., wooed the franchise. The team is looking for the kinds of spring training facilities built recently in the West Valley.
The team practices at Fitch Park and Hohokam Stadium, which is across from a cemetery and surrounded by houses.
The Cubs need a facility that can tie into related development, Ricketts said. The goal is to create a better experience for the city, the players and the fans, Ricketts said.
“They like the experience that they get inside Hohokam, but they don’t particularly care for the experience that they get outside the stadium,” Ricketts said. “They have parking issues, they have nowhere to go for lunch. We’re limited. If we put our heads together, we can solve for all three of those issues.”
The Cubs’ campaign will become visible next week, when signs will pop up across the city. A website, www.keepthecubs.com, will appear in about a week. The team plans what it calls a grassroots campaign.
The team continues to hunt for the best site among three contenders. The Riverview Park site is of particular interest to the Cubs, Ricketts said. It’s also looking near Thomas and Recker roads. A downtown site was suggested by the city recently, but Ricketts said that one hasn’t been as closely evaluated.
Mesa is studying the pros and cons of each site, including the economic opportunities, City Manager Chris Brady said. A report should be out in two weeks.
City officials have said they’d prefer the team have a site selected by the November election, or narrowed down to as few possibilities as possible.
Ricketts said it could take longer, especially because the Riverview site isn’t fully available. The site is where the Waveyard water park and resort is proposed, but its options on the land expire in July if it doesn’t begin the project.
The team’s goal is to open the new complex in 2013, but Ricketts acknowledged that could be pushed back a year.