Gila River wooing Cubs for spring training - East Valley Tribune: News

Gila River wooing Cubs for spring training

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Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2009 7:01 pm

The Gila River Indian Community is making a pitch to host the Chicago Cubs for spring training, positioning itself as a rival that could woo the team away from its longtime home in Mesa.

The tribe has traveled to Chicago to speak with Cubs management, which Mesa has also done in the wake of the team saying it is in the market for a new spring training facility.

Mesa has tried to discourage other Arizona communities from making proposals in addition to bids that are anticipated from Florida.

"It only serves to strengthen Florida's hand because it has the potential of diluting Arizona's position," Mayor Scott Smith said.

The Cubs have told Mesa that the Gila tribe has made overtures, Smith said. Since Mesa's Chicago trip in September, city officials have tried to talk with tribal officials to make their case as to why Mesa's should be the only Arizona bid, Smith said.

"They have not indicated a willingness to sit down," Smith said.

The Mesa mayor has argued that the team's large and faithful fan base spends money across the Valley that helps all cities, so everybody should join forces to focus on keeping the team in the same community.

Mesa will get more time to make its case in November, when the Cubs management will visit. The visiting delegation will likely include the team's new owners, the billionaire Ricketts family of Chicago.

The Gila bid isn't as much of a concern to Robert Brinton, president of the Cactus League and executive director of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Two Florida communities have expressed interest publicly, but Brinton said it's typical for communities to come forward at the last minute with proposals. The team will make a decision based on what's the best offer, he said, and Mesa just can't control what other cities will do.

"This is a great team," Brinton said. "I think there's going to be people say 'We're interested.'" Where they are remains to be seen."

The tribe did not return a call for comment, and the Cubs declined to comment. Smith said he doesn't know how advanced a bid the tribal government might have or how formal talks might be.

The Cactus League teams have shifted from city to city to take advantage of better deals in newer stadiums, though many communities have renovated or rebuilt facilities to keep their teams.

Tribal bids have become a relatively new concern as Indian communities have launched aggressive economic development programs.

The Gilas have built a 500-room Sheraton resort with a golf course, lured Rawhide from Scottsdale and opened a 400-acre business park along Interstate 10, near Chandler and Ahwatukee Foothills.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has pursued equally ambitious development programs and became the first tribe in the nation to land a major league baseball facility. This summer, the tribe announced a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies for a massive complex at the Loop 101 Pima Freeway and Indian Bend Road.

The tribe is not pursing any deal with the Cubs, community spokesman Levi Long said Thursday.

Mesa is marketing several sites near the city's eastern edge, which would allow the Cubs to have a larger stadium, better practice facilities - and have related businesses that keep fans around longer and bring in more money.

Hohokam Stadium and the existing practice facility at Fitch Park are in residential neighborhoods.

The Cubs are the most popular of the 14 Cactus League teams, with nearly double the attendance of the average team. A study commissioned by Mesa showed that the state would lose $52 million a year if the Cubs left Mesa.

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