Legislation in works to keep Cubs in Mesa - East Valley Tribune: News

Legislation in works to keep Cubs in Mesa

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Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 10:23 am | Updated: 3:52 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Mesa is confident the state's lawmakers will support a bill to fund a new Chicago Cubs training facility by tapping into tourism dollars and Cactus League ticket sales.

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Mesa is confident the state's lawmakers will support a bill to fund a new Chicago Cubs training facility by tapping into tourism dollars and Cactus League ticket sales.

The city is working with lawmakers and the Cubs on the legislation, which is key to keeping the team in Mesa for spring training. The team is expected to decide by month's end if it will stay here or take a competing offer in Florida.

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While the legislation would have the most direct benefit in Mesa, Mayor Scott Smith said he's encouraged that legislative leaders and lawmakers from other parts of the state seem willing to help.

"I don't think there's any doubt we have significant support in the Legislature and across the Cactus League," Smith said.

The heart of the financial plan involves getting more money from tourists by raising fees on rental cars, along with creating a surcharge for Cactus League tickets. The city and the facility's developer would share the rest of the cost, though the final amounts haven't been set yet.

"We definitely have the framework, and the Cubs have been very much involved in the discussion," Smith said.

Lawmakers aren't looking at taking any money from the state's already overtapped general fund, Smith said, to avoid further financial burdens on Arizona.

"I think it helps a lot that we're not asking legislators to chose between kids and the Cubs," Smith said. "This is purely tourist-tax generated."

Tourism taxes have funded Cactus League facilities since the 1990s. Mesa is scheduled to collect $8 million from the tax in 2020, hardly enough to fund what is likely to be an $80 million complex that includes a stadium and practice fields.

The tourism taxes would likely cover the largest portion of the cost, but nobody has determined how much yet.

The developer, which could be the team itself, would have to donate the land for the practice fields and parking to the city, Smith said. The city would likely sell bonds to pay for the fields, which would be open for non-Cubs use most of the year.

Mesa's portion would require a public vote, as the city charter requires an election if the city spends more than $1.5 million on facilities that include sports venues. Smith expects an election in November.

While the Cubs will likely make a decision in weeks, city leaders say they don't need the Legislature to approve a bill that quickly. Rather, the state must show the team it's got a process in place, as it will likely take the rest of the year to finalize all the details - including an election in Mesa.

The plan could evolve even after the Cubs make a decision. The Cactus League tax that's in place now is vastly different than what was first proposed, said Robert Brinton, who is president of the Cactus League and was involved in establishing the tax in the 1990s.

He expects it could take time to debate the financial plan's merits and then adjust to make the deal work for everybody.

"The goal right now is to find common ground to keep this valuable team here," Brinton said. "There's going to be a lot of discussion held because these things don't happen automatically. It's a process."

The surcharge on all Cactus League tickets could cause some concern at other venues, Mesa City Manager Chris Brady acknowledged. But other stadium operators may support the idea if it keeps the Cubs in Arizona, Brady said, because the Cubs increase attendance at other parks when they travel.

While the city has worked feverishly to convince the Cubs to stay, it is holding off on a team request to spend $684,000 on semi-enclosed batting cages at Fitch Park. The team would leave that facility in 2012 - either for Florida or for a new location in east Mesa.

Mesa would likely make the improvements if the Cubs stay. If the team leaves, the city plans to recruit another major league baseball team but would want to consult with that team to see if the batting cages are a priority.

The Cubs are the most popular of the 15 Cactus League teams, generating $52 million for the local economy a year.

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