The Chicago Cubs' new owners spent Wednesday scouting new spring training locations by air and land, ending the day with potential suitors who pitched their Mesa properties in a speed-dating-style succession of meetings.
The tour was the first trip ever to Arizona for owner Tom Ricketts, who joined other family members in two helicopters that flew across the Valley to see existing spring training facilities and potential sites in east Mesa.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said he found reassurance in hearing that the family wants more than a stadium from the city. The Ricketts family shares the city's vision for a development that will attract fans year-round and boost Mesa's tourism presence.
"We realized that we very much want the same thing," Smith said Wednesday afternoon.
The Ricketts family is visiting Arizona a week after getting control of the legendary Cubs, and at a time when Florida is trying to lure the Cubs into the Grapefruit League. Mesa hosted a reception of 100 political and business leaders Tuesday evening in a show of support for the Cubs, and Wednesday's tour capped the family's introduction to the team's winter home.
The team likely wants to have new facilities by 2012 or 2013.
"This is completely doable if things proceed in a timely manner," Smith said.
Smith said the family revealed few additional details about what kind of facility or deal they want. But the mayor said he felt confident each of the six sites were viable candidates that would work. The locations line the Loop 202 Freeway, from Falcon Field to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
One of the developers who met with the Ricketts family was Bob McNichols, the developer of Longbow Golf Club. He got 15 minutes with the family, who asked questions but didn't give any clues to their thoughts, McNichols said. He figures the family will first choose the location it finds most desirable, then get into the specifics of a design. Any site is good, he said, adding he'll support any of the locations.
"If there is a narrowing of the field, I for one will get behind the remaining contenders," McNichols said.
The six proposals by the respective landowners included many concepts, Smith said, and varied from very detailed to only conceptual. The development would likely be 100 to 140 acres and include hotels, entertainment and shops in addition to the ballfields.
The Ricketts family visit didn't change Smith's impression of Mesa's standing versus Florida, he said. He's still confident that the new owners will be impressed the city has built three facilities for the Cubs since the 1950s - something no other community has done for spring training.
"If we're judged on the merits, I think it's a slam dunk," Smith said.