corporate welfare for baseball teams coming to a city in arizona near you!

3 cities lead race to build park for spring training

Louie Villalobos and Christine L. Romero The Arizona Republic Mar. 2, 2006 12:00 AM

The race to get Arizona's newest spring training facility may be down to three cities.

Goodyear, Casa Grande and Glendale have all expressed significant interest and are further along in the process to lure two teams to Arizona from the Grapefruit League in Florida, said Jeff Schatzki, the executive director of the Arizona Baseball and Softball Commission.

At stake are millions of dollars in municipal investment and, in return, millions of dollars in retail development.

City, state and tourism officials say the timing is right and a deal may be imminent. But serious hurdles remain, including land acquisition and the probability of a campaign by Florida cities to retain their teams.

Schatzki's comments Wednesday came about six months after the commission sent out a letter that asked Arizona cities whether they were interested in a spring training facility. Fewer than 10 replied, he said.

He wanted them to take a possible deal seriously, including how much it would take to fund a stadium and whether their infrastructure could support it.

Marketing job

"They've got to sell themselves to any clubs who are interested in coming out here." Schatzki said.

Schatzki said there are at least three Florida teams that are routinely mentioned as possibly looking to relocate to Arizona. The Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds are all Grapefruit League teams with leases that have either expired or are close to expiring.

Grapefruit League Association officials have said they are working to find the Indians a new Florida location because the team's current complex is small and aging. The Indians' Florida host city of Winter Haven also has indicated that it would like to see condominiums and boutiques at the existing site.

The Orioles, who train in Fort Lauderdale, are facing funding issues, but league officials have said the team is happy in Florida. The Reds train in Sarasota.

Schatzki said Casa Grande and Goodyear appear to be further along than Glendale, but he also noted that Glendale hasn't been very public with its plans.

Casa Grande is working with a group of business leaders, dubbed Casa Grande Baseball 2008, on a deal to bring spring training to Pinal County.

Goodyear has bond money and landowners waiting.

Glendale, which already houses Glendale Arena and the new Cardinals Stadium, is keeping quiet on its baseball pitch, choosing not to comment Wednesday.

The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which is tasked with renovating existing Maricopa County stadiums, feels the time is right to bring the state a 10th spring training park.

Brad Parker, spokesman for the authority, said the Cactus League has set record attendance each of the past two years, topping out at 1.27 million fans last year and bringing about $270 million to the local economy.

Parker said the cities and any development partners would be responsible for funding the stadium costs upfront. The authority can then come in, when revenue is available, and pay up to two-thirds of the cost.

"We would have to wait and see what the plan would be," he said. "We don't have a large part in deciding where the next project will be."

The responsibility for finalizing a deal is left to the cities and the baseball teams, Schatzki said. His group works as a liaison.

Deal possible in 6 months

He believes a deal could be in place within the next six months and that a new stadium could be built by 2008 if the host city fast-tracked the project.

Goodyear Mayor Jim Cavanaugh expects a decision to come down sooner.

"We are within a month or so of the decision being made," he said. "I think it's down to the wire now."

Goodyear sits with $10 million in voter-approved bonding capacity to help support a spring training and recreation facil- ity.

In late January, Goodyear asked landowners to express official interest if they thought they could accommodate a 10,000-seat stadium on 120 acres designed for two Major League Baseball teams.

Three major landowners in Goodyear have expressed interest in working with the city on a spring training facility. Each has large pieces of land with freeway access, including Interstate 10. The cost for such a development is pegged at $50 million to $60 million.

Cavanaugh said his city is a perfect location for the new facility.

"It will probably be on I-10, bringing it visibility which you can't beat," he said.

In Pinal County, business leaders are still trying to identify a viable plot of land. They already know how much it would cost.

Bill Bridwell, chairman of the group, said it would take at least $110 million to get it off the ground. He is proposing a sales-tax increase of 8 cents on every $10 of purchases for 20 to 25 years to pay off the debt.

"From a financial perspective, it's absolutely doable," Bridwell said. "It's really an economic generator of untold potential for the city of Casa Grande."

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