Waveyard site leading contender for Cubs complex in Mesa - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Waveyard site leading contender for Cubs complex in Mesa

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Posted: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 6:17 pm | Updated: 6:11 pm, Fri Dec 3, 2010.

A battle may lie ahead over the Waveyard water park site in Mesa, as that locale is emerging as a top spot for the new Chicago Cubs spring training complex.

At the same time as the team has shown more interest in the Waveyard spot, city officials are expressing doubt and frustration over the resort's lack of progress.

Mesa leaders told the Tribune they are increasingly doubtful Waveyard can get funding in place by a July 2011 deadline. If Waveyard falls through next year on the city-owned Riverview park site, Mesa could instead sell to the Cubs.

But Mesa wants the Cubs to select a site this year - perhaps even this summer.

Councilman Dave Richins said he's lost patience with Waveyard and doesn't want the developer to hang on until the last minute.

"If you can't get a deal done and the Cubs want that site, get out of the way," Richins said. "Don't hold 450,000 people hostage with your pipe dream."

The Cubs are most interested in three Mesa sites. A downtown spot on the southwest corner of Mesa and University drives is also under close study and is a favorite of several Mesa City Council members. A northeast Mesa location has been studied since last year. The team has lost interest in a spot near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

The Riverview Park site only recently came into focus, said Councilman Scott Somers. He expects the team to share its research on each site with the city in a few weeks. The team likes the location in part because of its freeway access and visibility, he said. The Cubs are aware of the Waveyard plans.

"It doesn't change the fact that they're top interest right now is in the Riverview (site)," Somers said.

Waveyard had approached the Cubs early this year to pitch the idea of adding the spring training complex to its 120-acre project that includes a large shopping district. The team spent most of the year focusing on east Mesa sites and more recently added the downtown and Riverview spots.

Riverview likely doesn't have room for both projects, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said.

Mesa voters approved Waveyard in 2007, but the economic slump left it unable to meet the city's original deadline to get funding for the $250 million project. Mesa granted an extension last year, giving Waveyard until July 11 to prove it has funding.

The project's fortunes will be revealed well before that time, Brady said. By the July deadline, Mesa also requires Waveyard to have experienced hotel and theme park operators on board. And permits must have been approved, which will take at least six months for city planners to examine them.

"If we don't see that here before the end of the year, I would suggest that it would be nearly impossible for them to complete all the requirements of that agreement," Brady said.

Waveyard would need to be in more frequent contact with the city soon, Brady said, but so far the developer has had less communication than Mesa expected.

Waveyard has continued to tell Mesa it is close to securing financing.

Richins, whose council district includes Riverview Park, isn't convinced.

"Do you want to know how long I've heard that line?" Richins said. "I'm tired of this. How long are they going to tell me the same thing?"

Mayor Scott Smith is among the officials who have cast doubt on it.

"We're several years in and the financial world has not been friendly to the Waveyard concept. It's a great concept, I'd love to see it built, but I just don't know how viable it is given the financial situation."

Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh has been critical of the project and said it's tough to finance something like Waveyard even in a good economy.

"Since the fall of 2008, I think that climate has worsened for this kind of major development," he said. "I wouldn't be optimistic that they're going to be rescued by some hero."

The Cubs' level of interest in Waveyard will likely be even clearer in a few weeks. The team will share its site-selection studies with Mesa officials as the team works to narrow the options and develop site-specific plans.

"I think you'll see details come out over the next few weeks," Smith said.

City Council members have generally been supportive of the sites under evaluation but each spot has concerns.

Riverview's location at the edge of the city could make it easier for Tempe and Scottsdale to attract patrons to restaurants and hotels. Somers noted a prime reason for the new complex is to surround it with businesses - and to boost Mesa's tax revenues - which could make Riverview problematic for him. But the northeast site would face neighborhood opposition, and the downtown spot may require buying additional land.

Richins said he'll support what the Cubs want.

"It has to work for them because they're going to be the ones who operate the stadium and play there for the next few decades," he said.

Somers prefers downtown, where Mesa bought and bulldozed a neighborhood to make room for a resort that never came to be. The property is known as Site 17 and has sat idle for about two decades.

A spring training complex would forever change Mesa's downtown, Somers said, and rid the city of what he calls a ghost.

"It's a symbol of broken promises and shattered dreams," Somers said. "Site 17 is nothing. It's not revenue producing. It's not open space. It's desolate."

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