Mesa has approved key agreements that let the city and the Chicago Cubs design and build a new $99 million training complex, despite a last-minute protest the arrangements are a bad deal for taxpayers.
Mesa now has a 30-year deal in place for building the stadium, managing it with the Cubs and selling parcels to the team for the private Wrigleyville West entertainment complex. Also, Scottsdale-based Hunt Construction Group has become the contractor.
The City Council approved a package of Cubs deals Monday on a 6-0 vote.
The two sides negotiated terms since Mesa voters approved the deal in November by a 2-1 margin. Mayor Scott Smith described the talks at “intense” but said residents will get what they voted for.
The city insists the Cubs will pay any expenses exceeding $84 million for the stadium and $15 million for related projects.
“We never compromised on the overriding principles and we never compromised on the very basic details, such as hard caps, what we were going to build and what we wanted to accomplish - and those things, the city held steady,” he said. “A lot of things we’re hearing now are rehashes of what we heard during the campaign.”
Before Monday’s vote, Mesa resident Thomas Schuelke asked the Council to send the Cubs package back to voters. Residents didn’t know enough about financial agreements that were left to be negotiated after the election, he said. Schuelke objected to the city giving the Cubs an option of buying nearby land at $9 per square foot, which he considered below market value.
He argues Hunt’s contract was payback for the firm’s contributions to a pro-Cubs campaign leading to the November 2010 election.
Schuelke said the city should have had competitive bidding for the contractor.
“This is a very poor start to gaining public trust,” he said.
Mesa’s contract with Hunt differs from how many projects were managed for decades. Instead choosing contractors by the lowest bid when design is complete, Mesa picked Hunt while design is underway because of its experience.
Smith, a former contractor, said he found similar arrangements cut construction costs when the builder can work with the architects early on to identify more efficient designs.
Hunt was awarded $380,000 for the design phase of the project. It will seek competitive bids on numerous subcontract jobs.
Mesa also favored Hunt because it pledged to hire as many local firms as possible, Brady said.
Hunt was chosen after a national search. The company has built more than 100 sports facilities and was one of four finalists to meet Mesa and Cubs officials, City Manager Chris Brady said.
“The owner of the company was there and he made a personal commitment to make sure this project would be done on time and under budget,” Brady said. “And so I’ll tell you there’s nothing like being able to shake the hand and look the guy in the eye who owns the company, to make sure he’s going to deliver the project.
Vice Mayor Scott Somers said he shares some concerns that sports stadiums aren’t a proper use of taxpayer money. But he said the 2-1 vote in 2010 was a voter mandate showing public support.
Councilman Alex Finter said the city fought in closed-door sessions to get the best deal for Mesa. He called himself “quite a contrarian” on the deal but said he felt comfortable with the result.
“If I thought there was corruption or undue influence, I would be railing against this thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t be shy about it at all.”
Mesa expects to break ground by spring or summer of 2012 and open for spring training in 2014. The Cubs must have at least 10,000 square feet of restaurant or retail space by opening day to secure development rights on up to 6 acres of land. The team must begin that much development every 18 months to keep having the first option, or other developers can submit bids.
The complex will span 96 acres at the southeast corner of the Loop 101 and Loop 202. It will replace Riverview Golf Course and involves rebuilding Riverview Park.
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