Keeping the Cubs

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The Chicago Cubs are a Cactus League favorite, and Mesa, Arizona has been the team’s spring training home for decades. Now, there are rumors the Cubs could go to another State in return for better training facilities. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith talks about efforts to keep the Chicago Cubs spring training home in Mesa.

Ted Simons: Two Florida cities are pushing for the Chicago Cubs to move their spring training facilities from Mesa to the grapefruit league. To make that move the Cubs would have to get out out of their 25-year contract with Mesa. Mayor Scott Smith leads a contingent that will go to Chicago to try to convince the cubs to stay. An economic impact study found the cubs add over $50 million annually to the Arizona economy. Here to talk about keeping the cubs in mesa is Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. Good to have you back on the program.
Scott Smith: Thank you for having me here.

Ted Simons: Cubs making noise about leaving Mesa, what's happening here?

Scott Smith: Well, I think it's called the reality of the business of baseball, and baseball was changed quite a bit in the last 10, 15 years, and spring training's now very big business. Arizona saw that many years ago and put forth a concerted effort to lure teams from Florida, which we've been very successful in doing. We now have 15 in 15 Arizona, Florida, and now Florida I think has said wait a second. We hear the rumblings of the Cubs that their lease is coming up and we're going to make a play for them.

Ted Simons: Two cities in particular looking to he cubs?

Scott Smith: Those are two we've heard about and we know they made contact with the Cubs and governor Crist and other state officials have gotten involve in a statewide effort to try to lure the cubs to Florida.

Ted Simons: Naples and Sarasota.

Scott Smith: That's what I understand.

Ted Simons: Are the cubs looking for improvements to Fitch park and Hohokam stadium or just want all new?

Scott Smith: Where it started was improvements to the existing facilities. I was really caught when I went out to Goodyear to look at their new facilities that all the signs in the clubhouse are in four languages, English, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean, a huge change from where baseball used to be. It's truly an international game. They're much more into nutrition and weight training, things like that. We didn't build phases facilities to accommodate that. So the conversation started about adding those capabilities. Once those conversations started and it came out we were talking, all of a sudden we started looking at what is our competition doing, our competition, the Cubs, we have new stadiums in Goodyear and Glendale. We're not going to have a new stadium for the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, and all of a sudden the bar was raised because Florida got into it, said listen if we're talking new stadiums why don't we throw a new stadium on the table.

Ted Simons: Is that bar so high that Mesa will not be able to afford it? It's one thing to renovate for 18, $20 million, it's another thing, the White Sox and Dodgers facility on the West side is unbelievable and Diamondbacks facility with Rockies on the reservation, east side, will be that much if not more. Can Mesa stay in that game?

Scott Smith: By itself, no, but we're not going to do this by ourself. This is going to be a unique change in how we do things, just as the business of baseball has changed, I think the business of spring training facilities has changed, because I don't think anyone other than perhaps an Indian community has it all, or if a state comes together they have it all. Mesa's going to build a stadium, I believe, with a combination of city resources as best we can, private individuals and have a truly public private partnership, and we hope that the area recognizes the true benefit and the importance the Cubs play in not only spring training but in cactus league spring training.

Ted Simons: Talk about that importance, how much money is brought in, not only to Mesa, but the valley and the state?

Scott Smith: Well, spring training is a huge business now. We know that. We know in March that tens of thousands of fans come in from out of state and out of the city to bring money into the valley. The Cubs bring in an extraordinarily large number of those people. The average attendance of the Cubs is the highest not only in the cactus league but in the entire major leagues, and that's whether they're playing Hohokam or whether they're playing at a visiting stadium. One request we get from every team is please, let the Cubs come to my stadium more than once or twice a year. And it's significantly higher to the tune that an average Cubs game draws almost twice as many as an average other average cactus league game.

Ted Simons: The alternative sources of funding that you were talking about earlier, would that be easier to just say let's go build by Gateway or somewhere in that area as opposed to trying to renovate and rehabilitate in older parts of Mesa like Fitch Park and Hohokam?

Scott Smith: It might be. We're looking at several different sites. One of the good things we have in Mesa is we do have actually four or five very attractive sites that we could build not only a stadium, not just talking baseball facility. We're talking about the ancillary development that makes that facility possible and that makes it a year round facility. That's the difference now in spring training, it's not just one month out of the year. The Cubs are at Hohokam and Fitch 11 months out of the year. They are looking for a long-term situation where they can attract their fans long term, and that's what we're looking to accommodate.

Ted Simons: Special district being discussed maybe for funding and if so is that discussion going to get far in Mesa?

Scott Smith: You know, it's a state issue, and we have to go through the legislature to do that. I think that certainly is one alternative we will throw out on the table. We'll see whether others are interested in doing that. We just don't know but it certainly is one of the options we could pursue.

Ted Simons: Basics now, how long are the Cubs contracted to stay in Mesa as of today?

Scott Smith: Their contract runs through 2016, however, they, like every other team has an early opt out provision, they can leave as early as 2012 by paying a $4 million early termination fee, and so realistically we're looking at that they could be gone by 2012 if we don't come up with a solution quickly.

Ted Simons: That's why you and a contingent headed to Chicago to talk to the new family. Rickets family now owns the cubs.

Scott Smith: We hope to meet with someone from the Rickets family and also hope to continue discussions with the Cubs. We've had a lot of talks with them and we're very much aware of what they want but also it's a chance to solidify in the minds of the cubs that the support that the entire state has for the Cubs, that's why Speaker Adams is going with us, so we can take someone from state government, the governor was planning on going, and then had a conflict in his schedule, so we really want the cubs to understand that Arizona values them and their presence here.

Ted Simons: I don't want to dwell on negatives, but what happens if the Cubs just say we're going to go, thank you, but we're going. How does Mesa respond? How does Mesa react?

Scott Smith: That's certainly a possibility that we don't want to think of, but we have to plan as if that is a real possibility. You mentioned the $50 million. That's the incremental. That's the difference that the Cubs bring in versus another average team. So if the cubs leave Arizona and they leave Mesa that would leave a huge hole in the cactus league. It would leave a huge hole economically, certainly the cactus league would not be the same without the Chicago Cubs here. They're one of the original teams. They're a mainstay, and they not only bring dollars but they bring notoriety, they bring recognition, and it would be a big hole to fill. It would be almost impossible to fill the hole.

Ted Simons: For critics who see this scenario and say it's just a rich family owning a rich team with a bunch of rich ball players playing Mesa for all they can get, your response?

Scott Smith: You know what? I've heard that and I understand where people are coming from. I also look at what we have in mesa and what we have in this state are assets, not only of a rich family but also of the state. The fact that we can generate this kind of business, it does more than pay for itself in the long term. It's an asset and resource we need to develop and hold on to more than anything, because it relates to jobs, it relates to revenue, and our way of life in Arizona. So I can understand that. We're trying to balance that.

Ted Simons: Before you go, I know the trip to Chicago also includes what you hope to be some kind of meeting or get together with Boeing officials. What's that all about?

Scott Smith: Well, you know, Mesa is the home of the Apache helicopter. A lot of people don't realize the number one and probably most recognizable weapon in our defense inventory right now is the Apache helicopter. It's manufactured in Mesa. We're doing everything we can to maintain those relationships. We've seen what happens when a business leaves Arizona. Especially when a business that is involved in high tech or in high level of manufacturing or research, those kind of things. We don't want to leave anything to chance, so if we can, we're going to stop by and just say hello, renew those relationships, and keep working to maintain what we have in addition to building on what we have.

Ted Simons: All right, mayor, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Scott Smith: Thanks for having me.

Scott Smith: Mayor of Mesa;

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