It’s currently reminiscent of the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome. But when the Chicago Cubs’ new spring training stadium and surrounding amenities are complete, there’s little doubt it will be among Mesa’s main attractions.
After 34 years at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium, the Cubs will open their new state-of-the-art gem next spring near the Loop 101 and 202, adjacent to the Mesa Riverview shopping center.
Representatives from the City of Mesa and Cubs ownership hosted a press event and bus tour of the site Wednesday evening. The event served as an opportunity for the parties to give an update on the development’s progress, but also introduced Chicago-based media in town for spring training to where they will be working in future seasons.
According to both city and club officials, the goals tied to the facility are simple: Be the best spring training facility in the Major Leagues and to provide fans, visitors and Mesa residents with an unrivaled experience.
Wednesday provided a first look at the construction site for most, and while it’s mostly piles of dirt with some concrete walls and steel beams now, it’s clear Cubs ownership and Mesa city leaders are thrilled with what the new facility will provide the team and the city.
“This will be the most unique spring training experience in Major League Baseball,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. “There’s nothing else like it in Arizona. There’s some beautiful facilities — you go to Goodyear, you go to Camelback Ranch, you go to Salt River (Fields) — they’re beautiful facilities.
“There is no place that has the complete package like this has.”
In addition to the known commodities the facility will offer, there’s also buzz about some of the unknown elements it will bring. Smith said in the next few weeks, the city could have “some exciting announcements” about commercial developments the facility will draw to the 144-acre parcel.
Surrounding amenities, referred to as “Wrigleyville West,” are planned to include shops, restaurants and hotels.
Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts said the new spring training site is a win for the team, Cubs fans and Mesa. He said it will also be a “win for economic development for the entire area” and emphasized it will all translate into success on the field for the Cubs.
“When I look out at this dirt, I see ‘W’ flags,” he said. “We have to build a foundation of first-class facilities throughout the organization.”
The stadium will have a seating capacity of 15,000, and the players’ clubhouse will be 70,000 square feet, almost three times the size of the 25,000-square-foot clubhouse at Hohokam. It’s said that the clubhouse will have the largest weight room and workout space of any spring training facility in baseball and includes a theater that will seat 120 people for film study and team meetings.
The facility, however, will be about more than just baseball, Smith said. He added that it will create an opportunity for fans and Mesa residents to enjoy the entire day there, whether it’s tailgating, watching the game, enjoying Riverview Park or even fishing at the 28-foot-deep, onsite lake.
Smith also talked about the possibility of restaurants and a boardwalk that runs through the grounds and by the lake. There are rumors of recreating something similar to Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, which is filled with premium shops and restaurants, at the facility.
Mesa residents have shown appreciation and support through action; voters initially approved $84 million to build the stadium in November 2010 with 63 percent of the vote, and last November, voters approved additional funds through a bond election with 58 percent in favor.
Part of last year’s $70 million bond package, tied to city parks and other public facilities, will fund additional amenities at the Riverview location, including 18 soccer fields and 19 extra fields for baseball and softball.
“It’s a facility that we think will be part of our future for the next 30 years,” said Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations.
The Cubs plan to have the fields ready for use by Nov. 1 and the entire facility completed in December.
Smith, a key player and supporter of keeping the Cubs in Mesa — the organization had seriously considered a move to Florida — proudly donned a Cubs shirt and cap while touring the construction site.
“We are so happy to be at this stage. We’re not there yet, but it’s so exciting to see the progress that’s been made,” he said. “This is much more than just a baseball stadium. This is an experience.”