It took a threatened move to Florida, an election and the closing of a golf course, but three years of effort will culminate Wednesday with the Chicago Cubs breaking ground on a new spring training complex in Mesa.
The event will include members of the Ricketts family who own the team, along with Cactus League members and dignitaries associated with baseball stadiums from across the Valley.
But how many regular baseball fans will show up is about as certain as a weather forecast during the monsoon.
With triple-digit temperatures, humidity and an outdoor event, Mayor Scott Smith said the crowd could range from dozens to hundreds. Still, the city is trying to make the event pleasant.
Mesa is setting up tents and misters to cool the area after testing this approach at a police station groundbreaking in June.
“That went pretty well,” Smith said. “It’s still summer, it’s still Arizona, but that actually did a good job of cooling things down.”
The complex will be ready for spring training in 2014. It will include a stadium, practice fields for the Cubs and the Arizona State University Sun Devils and a revamped Riverview Park. Wednesday’s ceremony is planned to mark a special location.
“The groundbreaking will take place literally where the home plate will be,” Smith said.
Crews have spent months preparing for stadium construction at southeast corner of the Loop 101 and Loop 202 freeways. Workers have salvaged some trees at the former Riverview Golf Course, and archeologists have excavated canals to learn more about the Hohokam who lived here from about 1 A.D. to about 1450.
Mesa is expected to approve a $7.9 million grading contract on Monday, which will kick off the biggest project so far. The contract was about $1 million under budget, which Smith said is an encouraging sign for the rest of the project. Mesa still has to seek bids on significant contracts that include foundations, structural steel, the practice complex and the new park.
Mesa capped taxpayer expenses at $84 million for the baseball complex and $14 million for related infrastructure. The Cubs will pay for additional expenses — and the team and city have had at least one skirmish over that so far.
The Cubs had objected to how much Mesa wanted to charge the team for items like a lake and irrigation system that are required for baseball-related functions and the city park. Smith said the two sides have resolved tensions by developing a formula so costs are divided by what percent of each element is needed by the city or the Cubs.
Two significant features of the complex still haven’t been fully resolved.
No commercial developments have been lined up yet for the “Wrigleyville West” entertainment district the Cubs will develop outside the stadium, at team expense. The infrastructure will be put in place now so buildings could go up quickly as deals are made, Smith said.
Also, some design features at the complex are still under development. Previous renderings released to the public didn’t depict any design flourishes – which triggered concerns about a bland complex.
Smith said the city released the renderings because the public had clamored to see at least some visuals, and that the finished complex will be more striking.
“There had been no work done on any of the things that really make a difference, and those things will all be taken care of before we move forward,” he said.