The Chicago Cubs are scouting a growing number of locations across Mesa for a spring training complex, including along the light-rail line downtown.
The proposed Waveyard water park site is also on the list of potential homes for the team.
Mesa and the Cubs had zeroed in on two east Mesa areas where plenty of land was available, but a broader mix of sites has emerged. The new locations could dramatically change the character of the complex, as a downtown spot would call for a denser, more urban development.
A downtown location would also revive an idea born in the 1990s, when Mesa was planning to rebuild Hohokam Stadium for the Cubs and had considered moving the team to 40 acres of land it owns downtown. Supporters of the idea said it would transform the downtown, but the team stayed in Hohokam.
Light rail wasn’t part of the equation back then. It will arrive downtown in 2016 and has sparked renewed interest. Mesa’s 40 acres on the southwest corner of Mesa and University drives are several blocks from light-rail access, but the city is looking at plans that could involve using land that’s now privately owned to take better advantage of the transit line.
“If there were property available, we’d like to see the stadium as close to light rail as possible,” City Manager Chris Brady said.
Mayor Scott Smith said several downtown scenarios are possible. The city land is a natural place, he said, but there’s interest in redeveloping some privately owned properties for better light-rail access.
“That’s obviously a more difficult deal, but we’re trying to see if we can combine a stadium deal with the light rail,” Smith said.
Dealing with a larger number of property owners makes the deal harder, Smith said, and some options wouldn’t be possible if owners weren’t willing to sell.
The east Mesa sites that had been finalists are far easier to develop because the city owns much of the land involved. Also, there was ample room for a 100-acre site for the stadium, practice fields and a private development dubbed Wrigleyville West. That would include shops, restaurants and hotels that would generate money for the team and the city.
A downtown site would be more urban, Smith said, but it would also take advantage of the existing practice fields at Fitch Park. The city might tie Fitch to downtown by redeveloping the Escobedo area, which consists of city-owned apartments that have been vacant for two years because Mesa deemed it too expensive to maintain the World War II-era property.
But Escobedo is near other residential areas, a fact Brady said Mesa would need to be sensitive to if it considered using that land. However, Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said many configurations would work and could breathe new life into the city core.
“Downtown just has a lot of possibilities,” he said.
The Riverview area of northwest Mesa has several potential locations, Smith said. The planned Waveyard has until the summer of July 2011 to begin construction on what is now city-owned land.
Waveyard co-owner Richard Mladick said if his development doesn’t happen, the city could end talks with his company and turn to the Cubs.
“I’m sure all the options are on the table at this point for the city and the Cubs,” he said.
Mladick had presented a plan to the Cubs early this year for a joint project, but he said he doesn’t think the team is interested. Waveyard is still trying to secure financing on the $250 million development, he said.
All four major areas have more than one possible site. The city is hesitant to describe some proposals in any detail if they involve private property, Brady said, because that could trigger a spike in property values.
The city wants voters to know the location by the November election, when residents will be asked to approve spending more than $1.5 million on a sports facility. The complex will cost $84 million, split between the city and the team. The surrounding Wrigleyville West would cost more and be privately funded.
The new home could be down to a single location by November, Smith said, but it’s possible the decision could still be between two or three spots.
The city has already developed rough site plans for various locations, with some far more detailed than others, Smith said. The Cubs have some preferences, but the city so far is content with all options.
“I can make a great argument for any site,” Smith said. “I actually don’t have a preference.”