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Mesa pushes Cubs-ASU stadium talks

by Gary Nelson - Sept. 27, 2012 10:12 PM

The Republic | azcentral.com

Mesa's top leaders have become directly involved in talks aimed at allowing Arizona State University's baseball team to use the new Chicago Cubs stadium.

The deal has been in the works for more than a year and was approved in principle by the Arizona Board of Regents last October.

Negotiations have on occasion devolved into bitterness. In June, ASU President Michael Crow lambasted Cubs officials in a public e-mail to Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, accusing the team of reneging on terms that ASU thought had already been agreed to.

Cubs officials have declined to comment about the talks on the record, other than to say they still hope a deal can come together.

The Mesa City Council met in executive session Thursday morning to discuss the ASU-Cubs negotiations and a pending agreement for the Oakland Athletics to use Mesa's Hohokam Stadium beginning in 2015, after the Cubs move out.

Smith and City Manager Chris Brady could not legally comment directly on the council's closed-door discussions. But they both said after the meeting that they hope the Cubs and ASU will understand the importance of reaching a final agreement.

ASU originally pitched the idea as a way to avoid having to replace Packard Stadium, which sits on land the university wants to use for commercial development that would help pay for renovating Sun Devil football stadium.

If the Cubs deal falls through and ASU still wants to move its baseball program, Crow told The Republic's editorial board this week it would go to a stadium "somewhere in Phoenix."

He did not elaborate, but one possibility would be Phoenix Municipal Stadium, a nearly 50-year-old facility that the A's want to leave because it no longer meets their needs.

Crow also told The Republic that the fate of the Cubs deal now rests in Smith's hands.

"I've been involved in a lot of deals in my lifetime," Smith said. "There's nothing in this deal that should be a deal breaker."

He said ASU would benefit by having its baseball team play for virtually no cost in a major-league-caliber stadium that itself would cost $35 million to $40 million, apart from practice facilities and other amenities.

For the Cubs, he said, it's a chance to bring extra customers to "Wrigleyville," the privately funded and privately owned entertainment and shopping complex the team hopes to develop next to the stadium.

Mesa's interest, Smith said, lies in the extra activity and money generated by hosting one of the nation's top college baseball programs.

The Cubs stadium is being built at Riverview, only about 21/2 miles east of Packard.

Smith pointed out that for all the stickiness between the Cubs and ASU, it's still Mesa's stadium. The city is spending up to $99 million for the ballpark, practice fields, clubhouse, office facilities and a renovation of next-door Riverview Park. The Cubs have promised to lease the complex for at least 30 years.

Smith and Brady are both accomplished deal makers.

Smith has navigated a fiscal and legislative minefield to keep the Cubs from moving to Florida. He also was instrumental in landing a giant First Solar Inc. factory for the city's southeast corner, helping Arizona beat several other states in competition for the plant.

Brady, as a deputy city manager in San Antonio, helped bring a major Toyota factory to that city. In Mesa, he brokered a deal to bring a large, upscale Gaylord resort to the Gateway area, although that project was stalled by the recession and officially died this week when Gaylord stockholders approved a company reorganization.

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