DALLAS — Under the latest plan to keep the Chicago Cubs in Arizona, the city of Mesa would raise $84 million to finance a spring training facility without a state bond issue.
The new plan comes after the Arizona Legislature failed to approve a bond package to replace the Cubs’ Hohokam Stadium, which was built in 1997.
The team has held spring training in Mesa since 1952 and draws the most fans of any of the 15 Major League Baseball teams in the so-called Cactus League that practices in Arizona.
Now, however, Mesa is fending off a proposal from Naples, Fla., to move the Cubs spring training camp to that state’s Grapefruit League.
Mesa’s fund raising plan includes selling undeveloped farmland in Pinal County and using proceeds to help finance the new facilities.
The land, originally purchased for its water rights 25 years ago, “will be sold in an orderly, market-driven fashion over the next 25 years,” the city said.
The Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau also announced that its board of directors recently approved a proposal to increase the city bed tax from the current 3% to 5% and asked the City Council to put the bed-tax increase on the November ballot.
If voters approve, the increase would match those passed by neighboring Tempe and Scottsdale voters in March.
“Our members recognize the importance of having Cubs spring training in Mesa,” convention bureau president Robert Brinton said. “A slight increase in the bed tax is a small price to pay for keeping this vital economic resource in our community.”
Despite the plan, Smith said that the Cactus League is still at risk and needs Arizona lawmakers to create a regional funding solution for the league’s facilities.
One part of the plan before the Legislature would have imposed a ticket tax on all of the league’s teams to finance the Cub’s new stadium. However, other team owners shot down that idea.
“Today’s commitment by the city of Mesa gets us over a hump, but it does not solve the Cactus League problem,” Smith said. “We still need state lawmakers and Major League Baseball to agree on a plan to help preserve the Cactus League.”
The Cubs have not indicated yet whether they would approve the plan. The team is operating under a memorandum of understanding that gives Mesa exclusive bargaining rights for the new facility until July 12.
Naples is not pitching a counterproposal because of the MOU but could offer a plan later.
Meanwhile, funding for the Cactus League will take a hit under the budget approved by the Arizona Tourism and Sports Authority last week. The TSA, which has seen its tourism tax revenue drop 12% from last year, will trim this year’s $4 million league contribution to $3.9 million in the next fiscal year.
Tourism agencies, which had expected to receive $6.2 million, will receive $5.5 million instead.
The cutbacks in funding come at a critical time for Arizona, whose economy is reeling from the recession, falling sales tax revenue and a recent boycott of the state over its passage of SB 1070, a bill that requires local law officers to enforce federal immigration law.
The new law, signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, makes violations of federal immigration law a state crime that results in jailing of those who cannot prove their citizenship.
Some opponents of SB 1070 have called for the Cubs to move their spring training facility from Arizona and have urged Major League Baseball to move next year’s All-Star game from Phoenix. Neither the Cubs nor MLB have commented on the call for a boycott of the state.
Meanwhile, Arizona voters last month approved a one-cent increase in the state sales tax to avoid further budget cuts.