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Surcharges to save spring training

Thousands of baseball fans watch the Cubs during spring training every year at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium. But the Cubs said they were planning on moving to Naples, Fla., unless they get a new stadium in Arizona. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Thousands of baseball fans watch the Cubs during spring training every year at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium. But the Cubs said they were planning on moving to Naples, Fla., unless they get a new stadium in Arizona. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Baseball tickets and rental cars will get a little more expensive in Maricopa County if the Legislature passes a bill to build a new spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs.

House Majority Leader John McComish, a Republican from Ahwatukee Foothills, is sponsoring a bill that would allow the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority to borrow $59 million to build a new spring training stadium and practice facility for the Cubs.

The plan calls for a $1 surcharge on all vehicles rented in Maricopa County and an 8 percent surcharge on all spring training tickets. The money generated by those fees, combined with bonds the city of Mesa will ask voters to approve later this year and money from the Cubs, will enable the city to build a $200 million facility and guarantee the team will stay in Arizona for the next 25 years.

“While the surcharges are real, they’re not to the point where someone is going to say ‘Well, we’re not going to go,’” McComish said.

The bill, H2736, cleared its first hurdle Feb. 17 – the same day the Cubs reported for spring training in Arizona – when it won approval from a House panel, despite opposition from every other baseball team in the Cactus League and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

Critics said it was unfair to pay for the new stadium by taxing an unrelated industry and fans of other teams. John Kaites, a lobbyist who is representing the 14 other Cactus League teams, said the plan is designed to benefit only one team and one city.

“This plan is not a comprehensive plan for the Cactus League, by any means. It’s meant to deal specifically with the Cubs,” he said.

McComish, however, said the financing system would create an additional $81 million for the 14 other Cactus League teams during the next 25 years.

“It’s not a Cubs-only bill,” he said. “(The revenue) is going to go to the Cubs first because they have the most immediate need, but it’s going to go the Cactus League in general.”

The Cactus League is comprised of 15 teams, the most it has ever had.

The Cincinnati Reds moved to Goodyear from Sarasota, Fla., this season, and will play their first spring training games in Arizona next month.

The league’s expansion has come with a price, however. The Cactus League can no longer sustain its operations without additional money, McComish said.

“They’ve been so successful in getting teams here from Florida that they’ve tapped out the funding stream,” he said.

Florida, on the other hand, almost snatched up the most popular team in the Cactus League when Cubs executives announced in October that the team might end its streak of 32 consecutive years in Mesa unless the city builds a new stadium.

The Mesa City Council approved a measure last month to build a new spring training complex for the Cubs, being dubbed by some as “Wrigleyville West.” Mesa intends to find another team with a smaller fan base to fill Hohokam and Fitch Park, where the Cubs now play and train.
If McComish’s bill doesn’t pass, Mesa will be on its own trying to keep the crown jewel of the Cactus League from moving to Naples, Fla.

The Cubs typically draw more fans and tourism-related revenue than any other team in the Cactus League.

“I’m not a native of Chicago and I don’t live in Mesa,” McComish said. “I’m an advocate for economic development in the state and in the Valley. Our economy would suffer without (the Cubs).”

Patrick Ray, a lobbyist for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, said the ticket surcharge would place a burden on those who attend the pre- season games.

The rental car industry opposed the measure, as well. Kelsey Lundy, a lobbyist for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said most of the company’s business comes from people who live in Arizona.
“This is a tax (increase) on Arizona residents,” Lundy said.

Most lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee, though, didn’t see the surcharges as a reason to vote against the bill. The panel approved the measure by a 6-2 vote.

Rep. Michele Reagan, a Scottsdale Republican who chairs the committee, said the surcharge would amount to $1.60 on a ticket that costs $20.

Even if someone rented a car to drive to a game, she said, the extra cost would only be $2.60.
“Every time I’ve been to a spring training game, I’ve never seen anything I can buy for $2.60,” she said. “How much of a burden is that?”

- Reporter Jim Small contributed to this story.

Click here to read sidebar: “Lawmakers seek audit of Sports and Tourism Authority”

Cubs: Spring training nomads

Changing spring training location isn’t new for the Cubs, who have moved 18 times since 1901. In their 110-year history, the Cubs have spent 46 seasons in Arizona.

Champaign, Ill. (1901-02)
Los Angeles (1903-1904)
Santa Monica, Calif. (1905)
Champaign, Ill. (1906)
New Orleans (1907)
Vicksburg, Miss. (1908)
Hot Springs, Ark. (1909-1910)
New Orleans (1911-1912)
Tampa, Fla. (1913-1916)
Pasadena, Calif. (1917-1921)
Catalina Island, Calif. (1922-1942)
French Lick, Ind. (1943-1945)
Catalina Island, Calif. (1946-1947)
Los Angeles. (1948-1949)
Catalina Island, Calif. (1950-1951)
Mesa (1952-65)
Long Beach, Calif. (1966)
Scottsdale (1967-1978)
Mesa (1979-Present)
- Source: springtrainingonline.com

Members of the Cactus League:

Thirteen of the Cactus League’s 15 teams are now in Maricopa County.

Both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have announced plans to move to Maricopa County from Tucson before the 2011 season.

Team/Current City/Stadium/First Year in Arizona

Arizona Diamondbacks/Tucson/Tucson Electric Park/1998
Chicago Cubs/Mesa/HoHoKam Park/1951
Chicago White Sox/Glendale/Camelback Ranch/1998
Cincinnati Reds/Goodyear/Goodyear Ballpark/2010
Cleveland Indians/Goodyear/Goodyear Ballpark/1947
Colorado Rockies/Tucson/Hi Corbett Field/1945
Kansas City Royals/Surprise/Surprise Stadium/2003
Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim/Tempe/Tempe Diablo Stadium/1982
Los Angeles Dodgers/Glendale/Camelback Ranch/2009
Milwaukee Brewers/Phoenix/Maryvale Baseball Park/1969
Oakland Athletics/Phoenix/Phoenix Municipal Stadium/1969
San Diego Padres/Peoria/Peoria Sports Complex/1969
San Francisco Giants/Scottsdale/Scottsdale Stadium/1947
Seattle Mariners/Peoria/Peoria Sports Complex/1977
Texas Rangers/Surprise/Surprise Stadium/2003

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