The Chicago Cubs have been up front about the timing of the retail shopping district they hope to create surrounding the new voter-approved spring training facility near Mesa Riverview.
The baseball training complex - which is being funded mostly by the city of Mesa through the sale of land it owns in Pinal County - is the first priority and is scheduled to open sometime in 2013. After that, the Cubs plan to develop and finance a Wrigleyville West retail area that is home to Chicago-themed shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and possibly a Cactus League museum along the Riverview Park lake.
But this week's acknowledgement that the Wrigleyville concept will be delayed is disheartening, to say the least.
Mesa voters approved a ballot initiative in November that allows the city to spend $84 million on the spring training facility and an additional $15 million on infrastructure for the surrounding Wrigleyville shopping area - some of which will go toward reshaping the existing Riverview lake and park. The marketing efforts by the city and Cubs prior to that election stressed not only the importance of keeping the Cubs - who have called Mesa their spring home off and on since 1952 - but also the huge economic boost created by Wrigleyville.
It's what sold many voters, and was a big reason the Tribune also endorsed the plan.
With its boarded-up Fiesta district and many vacant storefronts and strip malls, Mesa desperately needs new commercial opportunities to bring in more sales tax revenue. The Cubs and their many transplanted followers from the Midwest offer an ideal opportunity to capture that - not only during the Cactus League season but year-round as well.
The team's current spring home, Hohokam Stadium, offers only a cemetery and residential property in the surrounding area - which means baseball fans and shoppers hop in their cars and take their entertainment dollars to nearby Tempe or Scottsdale. For Mesa, that's a huge wasted opportunity.
The current economic climate makes any new retail investment - even one tied to something as popular as the Cubs - a risky proposition. And we can't expect a huge retail district to pop up overnight.
"The question is: Is the economic situation going to be so you can attract somebody year-round?" Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said. "That's not unique to this facility. That's the situation across the country right now."
Brady says the city hopes to have a walkway and large lawn area leading into the stadium that could house temporary retail outlets in large tents during the first year. If it's anything like the pop-up village that is created every year at the Phoenix Open golf tournament in Scottsdale, that's a great temporary solution.
But it's not what we voted for.
More will be known in September, when the Cubs outline a development agreement that defines the exact location of Wrigleyville in relation to the stadium, practice fields and Riverview Park.
From there, the infrastructure will be put in place for the entertainment district. All we'll need then is some permanent entertainment - the sooner the better.