Cactus League Hall of Fame

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For six years, local Public Affairs consultant Robert Johnson has been searching for a home for a Cactus League Hall of Fame. Johnson now has fresh renderings of his proposed facility, and hopes to have a site selected by the end of next year. Johnson will talk about his efforts to create a Cactus League Hall of Fame.

Ted Simons: For the past six years local public affairs consultant Robert Johnson has been trying to find a home for a Cactus League Hall of Fame. Johnson now has fresh renderings of his proposed facility and hopes to have a site selected by the end of next year. Robert Johnson joins us now to talk about a Hall of Fame for the Cactus League. It's good to have you here, thanks for joining us. I've gotta tell you, I kind of assumed there was a Hall of Fame for something like the Cactus League.

Robert Johnson: Well, there ought to be, because literally half of the baseball players in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame back in New York played out here, including people like Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, you name them, they have been here.

Ted Simons: Your plans for a Cactus League Hall of Fame, tell us about that.

Robert Johnson: We have been working on this project out of the Mesa Historical Society for six years. That process has involved building a collection and support across the Valley and the state. And back in the markets where the teams who come here in March are from, San Francisco, Los Angeles, wherever. We're at the point now where as a traveling exhibit we've had great success over six years, we've been all over the Valley. We need to start thinking about where we will be permanently so we can grow from product and become the off-field home of baseball in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Sounds like an association with Mesa already exists. Is somewhere around Wrigleyville and the new Cubs Spring Training center, is that the most likely possibility?

Robert Johnson: That's one option. There are a couple of others that we're not in a position yet to talk about. We have been speaking with Mesa about this for many years now. The new Cubs project has helped put a little more focus on a particular site. There are a couple of others that are in play. It's my hope that by some time early next year, maybe by March or April, we could have more definition around that and we can say here's where we're going to be and here's when we'll be opening.

Ted Simons: As far as financing is concerned, what kind of financing are you looking, for municipal funding, bonding? What are you looking at?

Robert Johnson: The scenario is different based on the potential partner. Right now we have a combination of those sorts of possibilities in play. Ideally we want to have control over our destiny and pay our own way. The organization is cash poor right now, so we're going to need to find somebody with a vision to get us there. But based on what we see and what we think is here, and the market year-round, not just in baseball but tourism, we believe based on some other experiences as well in places like Cincinnati, in five or six years this project could pay for itself and operate entirely as an independent organization.

Ted Simons: What's going on in Cincinnati?

Robert Johnson: The Reds have a Hall of Fame museum, and an operation there right outside the Great American Ballpark. They built it and paid it off in five years. They only have 80,000 people a year going through it. We have 1.7 million people a year just in March, and a million of those folks are from out of town. We think if we could good even get a portion of that group, we'd more than beat the Reds number, and over a few years we'd probably be even bigger than Cooperstown.

Ted Simons: You mentioned vision. We do have renderings here, you've got an outline. I want to show those. Tell us what we're looking at here.

Robert Johnson: Well, this is an overview of the project. You can see that it includes exhibit spaces that wrap around a T-ball field, which we think would be a neat little addition to encourage families locally to come. It has a berm, one of those signature items at any Cactus League ballpark. And then lots of exhibit space, where the area number four is. And the grand entry where you see the Number 7 is a place where we can do outdoor events. We can sell bricks, raise money out there, have statues of famous Cactus League ballplayers. It really is an opportunity to generate revenue in five or six different places all at once. This is the view from the entry court of the plaza I spoke about. You go through the arches and see the T-ball field berm sort of dropping down, or go to the left where the building comes up and enter, and get into the whole exhibition space, the museum and everything. If you go into the museum you'll see two different ways to go. You can go up the stairs, see some exhibits and then come out where you see the sort of sail arches above the berm. That is an area where we could do outdoor events; you could also look over into the ball field and see what's going on there. Or you can go straight and under that arch and back into the exhibit space back there. We'll have Cactus League history but we're also kicking around some talks with the National Baseball Hall of Fame for a traveling exhibit every season.

Ted Simons: How much is Major League Baseball involved? And do you need their okay for something like this?

Robert Johnson: They are involved from the standpoint of us working with each individual team, and there are 15 teams here every spring. Many of them stay all year and run all of their operations here. We're talking to them individually. I think as this becomes more of a reality, when we say we're going to build it here, it will be open on this day, we'll have more concrete talk. We don't need to engage them as a partner, but we want them as a partner eventually. It's just not time for that stage yet.

Ted Simons: I was going to mention real quickly, those draftings, those drawings looked a little bit like Talking Stick, Camelback Ranch out there on the west side for the Dodgers. Good reason for that, isn't there?

Robert Johnson: The architect and his team over at HKS here in downtown Phoenix did the work for us. We've partnered with them. They are doing what we call free-con, they're doing it all for free, and obviously we'd like to have them finish this job with us when we get to that point.

Ted Simons: You've got your first Hall of Fame class being inducted in February.

Robert Johnson: That's right.

Ted Simons: Who's voting on this?

Robert Johnson: Initially it'll be a committee of people within the museum working on the project, but after the first season, when we get it kicked off and the awareness through the media coverage and the like, we'll have the fans do it each year. We'll put the slate up and have the fans from all over the country using Twitter, Facebook and all those things, help weigh in. With all due respect to the baseball writers of America, they're a little unpredictable, and we think somebody ought to get inducted every year.

Ted Simons: Are you going to let Pete Rose wander through there if he comes to town?

Robert Johnson: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: All right. Thanks for joining us. And good luck to you.

Robert Johnson: Thank you.

Robert Johnson:Consultant, Public Affairs;

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