Keep the Cubs!

I just returned from a week-long trip to Phoenix to cover the Angels’ fall instructional league for my other web site, FutureAngels.com.

Driving around Mesa, I saw signs promoting or opposing Proposition 420, a ballot measure designed to keep the Chicago Cubs’ spring training and minor league complex in the city.

As with the Nationals here in the Space Coast, the Cubs have made noises about moving elsewhere. They threatened to leave Arizona altogether, courting business groups in Naples, but those interests finally decided to stop playing the game last July once the Cubs reached a tenative agreement with Mesa.

The Mesa scheme relies on a ballot initiative that would allow the city to sell 11,000 acres of surplus land in Pinal County which would help pay for stadium construction, with the Cubs responsible for any cost overruns.

KeepTheCubs.com is the web site for Prop. 420. The site claims, “Prop. 420 keeps $138 million in Mesa & Az each year; no new or increased taxes!” In a cursory search of the web site, I was unable to find any explanation of how the $138 million figure was reached, or assumptions made about the value of the land to be sold.

“A Yes vote Proposition 420 will boost Mesa’s economy by launching a project worth tens of millions of dollars in jobs and revenue to the city and making certain the Cubs stay in Mesa for another generation,” the site claims. Again, no explanation for how that conclusion was reached or what was the methodology.

An October 13, 2010 editorial in the East Valley Tribune endorsed Prop. 420.

As you’re deciding which way to vote on Nov. 2, ask yourself this: Which is greater, the amount of money the city wants to spend on a new spring training facility, or the amount of revenue it will generate? The answer is clearly the latter.

Again, no explanation for how they reached the conclusion that it would generate more money than it costs.

The complex would be surrounded by a retail district called Wrigleyville that is described by the paper as another Downtown Disney. But it’s unclear to me who would be the ultimate property owner — the City of Mesa, or the Chicago Cubs. If it’s the city, then it would appear the property will be leased to the Cubs, and therefore not generate any property tax revenue.

This is one of my main concerns with publicly-funded ballpark schemes. They promise untold wealth for the community, but such promises are often based on dubious assumptions, and rarely are other uses ever debated.

The opposition web site is VoteNo420.com, a domain name that links to a blog called Mesa Spring Training Stadium. It’s much more modest than the pro-420 site, lacking fancy graphics or any content other than a series of blog posts.

Driving around Mesa, I saw signs for both sites, but clearly the pro-420 people have larger and more numerous signs throughout the community. It would be interesting to visit Mesa City Hall to find out who is paying for the pro-420 web site and campaign signs.

The Mesa negotiations should be a case study for what may happen here in Brevard County as the Nationals start moving in the direction of their own ultimatum for a state-of-the-art facility, threatening to go elsewhere in Florida or even Arizona. I’ve never understood why a multi-billion dollar industry expects subsidies from local taxpayers. Does Wal-Mart expect a city to pay for their building? Of course not. But baseball barons can always find some starry-eyed elected official willing to compromise the public interest in exchange for attaching a professional baseball team’s name to their community.

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