An agreement that would help keep the Chicago Cubs' spring training home in Arizona cleared a hurdle Monday, winning approval from city officials in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.
Under the deal, Mesa would build an $84 million stadium and training facility for the Cubs, and the team would stay in Arizona for at least another 25 years. State lawmakers still need to approve legislation to finance and build the stadium, and Mesa voters will need to approve it in November. But city officials see those as minor hurdles.
"The Cubs, they have a 50-year history with the city," Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said. "Everyone knows them and we're pretty optimistic we'll get the support."
The Cubs also must decide to give Mesa exclusive negotiating rights by the end of the week for the deal to move forward, Brady said.
City officials in Naples, Fla., are trying to lure the Cubs away from Mesa, where the team first trained in 1952 and has played almost every spring since.
As the top draw during spring training in Arizona, the Cubs routinely attract overflow crowds to their current 12,623-seat training facility.
To keep the Cubs in Mesa, city officials plan to build a 15,000-seat stadium and a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse with locker rooms, a nutritional center and other amenities. Also under the proposed deal, the team would manage the stadium, have naming rights and control of signage, and wouldn't have to share the facility.
Cubs President Crane Kenney has said the team's long history in the desert will be a factor in the decision.
"It is very important," he said. "In a lot of ways, tradition is what the Cubs organization is about."
Brady said keeping the Cubs in Mesa is important for the city and the state.
"We've done the economic-impact studies that show there's over a $50 million economic impact annually to the state of Arizona," he said. "And more intangible, but significant, is the branding _ the idea that Mesa, Arizona, can associate itself with the strength of the brand of the Cubs, and use it to attract tourists and businesses."
As part of the agreement, Mesa wants to use tourist taxes to pay for the stadium.
Councilman Scott Somers said Mesa's ability to recover from the current economic slump is dependent on the Cubs remaining in Arizona.
"It's not going to happen if we retreat, if we go back into the closet and we hide in our shelves and we stick our head in the sand and we don't make a plan," Somers said.
Seven residents addressed the council before the vote, with those against the agreement arguing that no tax should be used to attract private business. Those who supported the deal said the Cubs would provide a much-needed economic engine for Mesa.
One resident, Gary Sievers, sang in support of the agreement, tweaking the words to the team's song, "GO CUBS, GO."
"Stay Cubs, stay," he sang. "Mesa has the drier heat, Naples causes sweat and sleet. ... Mesa makes Chicago glad. Naples _ one big hanging chad."
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