Mesa officials pragmatic on pace of Cubs entertainment district - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa officials pragmatic on pace of Cubs entertainment district

Wrigleyville West expected to take shape in fall

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Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2011 5:00 am | Updated: 5:09 pm, Thu Oct 13, 2011.

Mesa is acknowledging the Wrigleyville West entertainment district planned at the new Chicago Cubs facility could begin simply as a pathway with a lawn in its first year.

The city is pushing for a lively mix of shops and restaurants but knows the sluggish economy could limit what debuts along with a new spring training complex.

City Manager Chris Brady said the area will at least have temporary offerings to create a fan-friendly experience as patrons walk though the district and into the stadium.

“It could be that the first year you have open, green space and you have really nice tents and kiosks and gazebos,” Brady said.

One challenge is that while 12,000 fans will routinely fill the stadium every March, the Cubs-owned Wrigleyville needs businesses that will draw customers on their own. And the team needs to find merchants who are confident that consumers will resume spending.

“The question is: Is the economic situation going to be so you can attract somebody year-round?” Brady said. “That’s not unique to this facility. That’s the situation across the country right now.”

Mayor Scott Smith said he and Brady will travel to Chicago in August to meet with the Cubs and hear more details about the team’s vision for Wrigleyville. The district has been a critical part of the spring training complex since it was proposed last year and voters ultimately approved the project in November. Stadium proponents argued the new tax revenue from the district justifies the city spending $84 million for the stadium and $15 million for related infrastructure. The city plans to break ground this fall or winter.

The Cubs have said the district will have some of the charm of the Wrigleyville neighborhood that surrounds the famed Wrigley Field in Chicago. No specific plans have emerged yet.

The focus so far as been on the baseball complex. But Smith said the Wrigleyville concept should take shape by this fall.

Smith said the Cubs have agreed to have some businesses in the stadium itself. The adjacent district will have some transitional uses initially because it’s not possible to build the entire Wrigleyville at once, Smith said.

“We’ve said from Day 1 that we want to do it right,” he said. “We’re going to focus on doing it right and not be rushed.”

The district doesn’t have to be fully planned when stadium construction begins later this year. The commercial buildings can be built in six to nine months, Smith said.

The complex is set to open in 2013, though it’s not yet known whether it will be ready for that year’s spring training.

The next critical step will come in September, when the city expects to approve its final development agreement with the team. That will define the exact spaces for the stadium, practice fields, entertainment district, parking and a revamped Riverview Park.

The development agreement will allow the Cubs to enter serious talks with potential hotels, shops and stores because the district’s exact size and location will be defined. Cubs general counsel Mike Lufrano said the district’s specifics will come together soon after key events in the coming months.

“We’re working hard with the city, focusing on baseball operations and nailing down the site layout,” Lufrano said. “We expect to turn our attention to Wrigleyville West once the plans for the baseball design become more detailed.”

Mesa needs to set deadlines on developing various phases to ensure spots don’t remain empty too long, Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said. If developable sites sit idle too long, the city should have the right to take back the land or assign it to another developer, he said.

“They need to have good people working with them to understand themed entertainment districts,” he said. “Wrigleyville in Chicago didn’t happen overnight. That happened organically over 100 years. This is something that I’m sure will have to be phased in but the city wants to ensure that it maintains options on it.”

The development agreement to come in September will define the acreage of the district. So far, the city has not defined how many square feet of buildings it expects. That could evolve over years, Brady said.

All the infrastructure will be in place when the stadium opens to allow for many different kinds of buildings to come later, Brady said. The city is open to having the kind of multi-level buildings in a development like Kierland Commons, he said.

“Where we’re willing to go vertical, it could be very significant,” Brady said.

In other spring training complex developments:

• Mesa is taking an inventory of trees at Riverview Park and plans to move desirable ones to a nursery so they can be replanted in the renovated park.

• The city is working with the Mesa Riverview to allow overflow parking in the adjacent shopping center. The new complex will have 4,500 parking spaces, up from 2,700 at the existing Hohokam Stadium.

• Mesa has spoken with at least four baseball teams in its effort to find a replacement for the Cubs at Hohokam. The teams have looked favorably on the stadium, Kavanaugh said.

“Some of the teams from Florida look around in amazement and go, ‘The Cubs want to leave this? This is better than what we have in Florida,’” Kavanaugh said.

• City staff and consultants are brainstorming ideas for a revamped Riverview Park. The city wants to keep quaint features but make it more inviting, Smith said. Several “exciting” ideas have surfaced and they’ll be made public this fall, he said.

“We’ve got people coming up with interesting features that you’ve never seen before,” he said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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