PHOENIX -- Responding quickly to Mesa city officials' unanimous approval of the proposed "Wrigleyville West" project that would keep the Cactus League's most venerable member in Arizona, the Chicago Cubs granted the Phoenix suburb exclusivity to get the deal done. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) -- which for the time being grinds to a halt efforts by Naples, Fla., to recruit the Cubs east -- was announced Wednesday morning at a high-energy news conference at the Arizona state capitol. Calling the Cubs "a brand unlike any other in baseball," Mesa mayor Scott Smith repeatedly thanked Tom and Laura Ricketts for acknowledging what "the Cubs bring to Arizona [and being] an active partner and developer of this project."
The Cubs have held Spring Training in Arizona since 1952 and are considered the gold standard of the growing Cactus League. "We're very excited to reach this step for keeping the Cubs in Arizona and look forward to the next 57 years," said team chairman Tom Ricketts while his sister Laura, a member of the Cubs' board of directors, distributed pinstriped Cubs jerseys to dignitaries. "I'm grateful to all the people who have worked so hard just to get to this day." Bearing the expansive name because the development would include commercial properties such as shopping areas and a hotel, "Wrigleyville West" is a proposed 100-acre project in the very early stages. A potential site has yet to be determined for the $84 million complex centered by a new 15,000-seat ballpark. However, Cubs president Crane Kenney indicated in a subsequent conference call with Chicago media that the choices have been whittled to three possibilities, with an East Mesa location most likely. The Cubs' current contract with Mesa expires in 2016 -- although their lease at Ho Ho Kam Park runs out after 2011, and one of their MOU obligations is to help attract a replacement club to Ho Ho Kam. As part of the MOU, Mesa did away with the annual $850,000 penalty the club had faced for early termination of its contract with the city. Although the MOU does not have a formal deadline, it essentially gives Arizona a one-year window. The state legislature is expected to address financing of the project within days and -- barring any intervening roadblocks -- the referendum would go on the November ballot for Mesa voters. If approved, and with corresponding progress on designs and permits, Kenney considered possible a 2012 move into the new facility, although 2013 is more realistic. "We understand they have other attractive options -- we know that; we get it," Smith said. "While they're disappointed in Florida, they're not giving up -- and they will not give up." "What I can tell you about our experience in Naples is that it was a pleasure," Kenney said. "It's hard for us to believe that Naples has not found a Spring Training team for such a great community. "It happened more out of accident than out of design, and as we got more and more into it and the [Ricketts] family spent more and more time in Naples and began to understand what could occur there, it became a very real opportunity and one that we had to explore." Smith made it a point to laud the Ricketts family for not bringing the Naples offer to the table, not playing one side against the other. "Ultimately," Kenney summed up, "the tradition we have here in Arizona earned them the first look." Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and key members of the state legislature all pledged their time and efforts to ensure the retention of an asset whose annual economic impact is considered $50 million-plus, a big slice of the estimated $128 million generated by the 15-team Cactus League. This is an especially significant issue for a state among the hardest hit by the economic downturn. Several state parks are facing closure due to funds shortfalls. "The Cubs are not only a Mesa institution but an Arizona institution," said Kirk Adams, speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. "Especially in these economic times, retaining the Cubs is extremely important. I am pleased to express my support." Echoed House majority leader John McComish: "We're all busy, but we will take time to address this matter. This is an important matter, with economic consequences for everyone in the state." "This is a great day for Arizona," said Gov. Brewer, speaking under a banner reading, "Arizona Loves The Cubbies." "The Cubs provide a huge economic boost to Arizona, and it's important that we all do our part to respect that," Gov. Brewer added. "They hit a home run for our economy. Their drawing power is one reason Florida tried so hard for them. "Spring Training is not the same without the Cubs." "We all believe," Tom Ricketts said, "that if it's not broken, don't fix it. We're excited to get to this point. We next look forward to what must happen to make it a reality."