The spring home of the Chicago Cubs now belongs to Mesa. The City Council on Thursday decided to pay off a $9.7 million loan to renovate Hohokam Stadium eight years early, a financial move that frees up cash flow and positions the city better when it comes time to renegotiate with the Cubs, officials said.
The debt was structured so payments would increase this year, but now the city will have about $2 million a year in cash, said Mayor Scott Smith.
The loan was to rebuild the ballparkin Fitch Park on Center Street between Brown and McKellips roads in 1996.
The city was able to get the money to pay off the loan from a surplus in the enterprise fund, which is composed of five major utilities.
"We will be able to borrow money from one fund to another and pay it off," Smith said.
Robert Brinton, vice president of the Cactus League and executive director of the Mesa Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said he believes the financial decision will benefit the city when the Cubs' contract expires in 2016.
However, the Cubs, who have the highest spring training attendance, have an option to opt out in 2011 and are up for sale.
The sale is supposed to go through at the end of the season.
Keeping the Cubs happy will probably mean renovating the stadium and it would not have been good to spend more with the debt remaining, Brinton said.
"I think it's a better situation if you say this stadium is already paid off, now here's what we're going to do to renovate it," Brinton said.