Two consultants have found the Chicago Cubs will face hurdles trying to land shops and restaurants at any of the new sites the team is considering for a new spring training complex.
The Valley’s high vacancy rates, or the specific location of some sites, will limit the number or types of specialty businesses the team can put in the development the Cubs have called Wrigleyville West.
A study released Thursday shows some benefits for any of the three sites. Mesa commissioned the analysis to help the team evaluate whether restaurants and shops would want to locate in the new complex featuring Cubs-related shops to replicate the feel of Wrigley Field in Chicago, City Manager Chris Brady said.
“It’s quite a science that they go through in making these decisions,” Brady said.
The city commissioned the study for less than $20,000, Brady said, but the report didn’t recommend a site. Instead, it listed strengths and weaknesses based on demographic information including income, nearby population, growth rates, vacancies and the amount of competition.
The site with the greatest number of strengths is Riverview Park, which has also emerged as the team’s favorite locale. Riverview likely has the greatest potential to attract stores because of high traffic volumes, easy freeway access, good visibility placement in a massive commercial district.
But the location near Mesa Riverview and Tempe Marketplace is a double-edged sword: The two centers have 2.6 million square feet of shopping and both plan to expand. The report raises the question of whether the economy of Arizona – and especially of Mesa – will allow the area to lure many new businesses.
The study highlighted several concerns with sites downtown and at Loop 202 and Recker Road. They both had few nearby shops, indicating there’s little demand for new stores in either area. Both sites aren’t very visible. Downtown has a high population but low income level, while the northeast Mesa site has fewer people but higher incomes.
The downtown site has a significant drawback for retail because it has no freeway access. Light rail will arrive on Main Street in 2016, but the nearest station will be about a half-mile from the shops. People would walk that far for a stadium but not for shopping, said Todd Kjar of the Brown Group Inc.
“People don’t like to walk a long way when they have a lot of things they are carrying,” said Kjar said.
The study was done by the Scottsdale-based Brown Group, which has developed more than 6 million square feet of development. Munson Research & Consulting of Utah played a role. It’s experienced in site selection for stores.
The study was completed in the last month after consulting the Cubs on their preliminary ideas for the Wrigleyville concept.
The study will likely lay the groundwork for research the Cubs are undertaking and are expected to share with Mesa in a few weeks, Mayor Scott Smith said.
The Riverview site’s strengths are potentially undermined by the fact Mesa has committed the land to the Waveyard water park and resort. The already-delayed project will lose its rights if it doesn’t get permits by July 11, but Brady said Waveyard executives will need to submit plans by January to make the summer deadline. Waveyard also needs to secure a hotel operator, water park operator, plans for 200,000 square feet of retail space and proof of financing for the $250 million project.
The Cubs could name Riverview their favorite site before July — and even before the Nov. 2 election to approve spending more than $1.5 million on a sports facility. But if the site were named soon, Brady said it would be with conditions.
“It will be a backup plan as a preferred site,” Brady said.
Should Waveyard get funding, the Cubs would select one of the other sites, Brady said.
The Cubs, in a recent visit with the Tribune, said they don’t plan to pressure Waveyard to back out before July even if it’s evident the water park is doomed. Mesa officials said they must honor the contract through then, but that they have carefully tried to broach the idea of Waveyard backing out before July if critical elements aren’t falling into place soon.
“I think we’ve tried to have those conversations,” Brady said. “It will become more obvious.”
Mesa officials have become increasingly doubtful Waveyard will happen, but Brady said the city would be eager to have the Cubs go with their second choice if that means the city can also land the water park.
“If Waveyard comes up with the money, we’re going with them,” Brady said.
PROS AND CONS
Two consultants studied the sites considered for a new Cubs spring training complex, analyzing each location’s odds of attracting specialty stores and restaurants. The study did not recommend a site, only listing data and the pros and cons of each place.
Traffic counts: The highest of any site, with more than 59,300 vehicles a day.
Retail competition: Few name brand stores in the area.
Access: No nearby freeways, which could lead to traffic jams. Light rail arrives in 2016, but the nearest station will be farther than most customers typically would walk to shops and restaurants.
Retail synergy: High vacancy rates make it hard to attract new stores.
Visibility: The stadium could overshadow the shopping area.
Vacancy rates: Very high.
Demographics: Average incomes are low, which makes the area less attractive to stores.
Access: Easy access to the Loop 101 and 202, and near Sky Harbor International Airport.
Retail synergy: Mesa Riverview and Tempe Marketplace draw customers for miles.
Traffic counts: Busy area with wide streets and little congestion.
Visibility: In sight from the Loop 202, but limited from surface streets.
Retail competition: Riverview and Marketplace pose competition for shops and restaurants.
Demographics: Low incomes, but highest population of the three sites.
Access: Good freeway access, but the site least likely to become a regional shopping area because it’s on the city’s edge.
Retail competition: Almost unlimited opportunity for new stores, but low population base could lessen appeal.
Vacancy rates: Very few empty stores nearby.
Demographics: Highest income of the sites and most potential for growth, but smallest population.
Retail synergy: Almost none because few stores are nearby.
Traffic counts: Only 6,800 vehicles exit the freeway at Recker Road.
Visibility: The site can’t be seen because the freeway is below grade.
Source: Munson Research & Consulting, Brown Group Inc.