The city of Mesa believes it will seal a deal to become the home of its second Cactus League team by the end of this year.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith announced on Wednesday that the city believes it can reach a deal with the A’s and receive $8 million for a renovations at Hohokam Stadium and the practice fields at nearby Fitch Park, now home to the Chicago Cubs.
Mesa, which has been in ongoing negotiations with the Oakland A’s for a number of months to replace the Chicago Cubs at Hohokam Stadium, who are scheduled to move into their new digs — a $99 million complex at Mesa’s Riverview Park in time for the 2014 season, ends its lease at Phoenix Municipal Stadium after the 2014 spring training season and recently submitted a “wish list” to the city of what it wants in the way of upgrades.
Mesa is posed to receive $8 million from the Arizona Tourism and Sports Authority, pending the completion of a deal with the A’s, owned by Lew Wolff, a hotel real estate magnate who owns The Hyatt Place at Mesa Riverview.
One of those upgrades the A’s are seeking is to actually have a large number of its 12,500 seats removed from Hohokam to open access to other areas of the near 20-year-old park. The goal is to create more amenities and enhance fan experience.
The team also is seeking upgrades in Fitch’s weight rooms and kitchen in the clubhouse.
The A’s have agreed to cover most of the remaining costs, according to Smith.
“The A’s want to make Mesa their longterm home,” Smith said. “There’s restrictions on how the $8 million can be used, but that amount gets us a long way there.”
“The A’s have a much different spring training operating profile,” Smith added. “The don’t draw 13,000, 14,000 fans. Whether it’s 13,000, 14,000 or 8,000, 9,000 fans, it’s still an economic boom. Fitch Park was before weight training was significant and long before nutrition was an important part of training programs.”
In the Nov. 2010 general elections, city voters passed Proposition 420, which allows the city to spend up to $99 million to build a new spring training complex for the Cubs, which place Hohokam and its practice fields at nearby Fitch Park in limbo.
However, Mesa and the A’s have been in exclusive negotiations since late last year.
The A’s have sought upgrades to Phoenix Muni, which was built in 1964 and is the oldest of the 15 Cactus League facilities. The Phoenix stadium seats 8,775 fans, the second smallest in the league.
The A’s approached Mesa after stadium improvement talks with Phoenix fizzled, according to Chris Brady, Mesa city manager. Mesa made sure to contact Phoenix officials to get an OK before proceeding, Brady said.
“I’ve talked to Phoenix, the mayor has talked to Phoenix. We don’t want to represent this as something we stole from them,” Brady said in November.
Officials from the A’s have confirmed they are negotiating with Mesa and that negotiations are “very positive,” but would not comment beyond that, citing the privacy needed during ongoing negotiations.
Mesa has anticipated it will have to improve Hohokam and Fitch regardless of which team it ultimately signs, and that Fitch will require more extensive work. The city won’t know what kind of money is involved until a team has a specific list of improvements its seeking, Brady said. Teams that toured the sites including the Toronto Blue Jays, currently training Florida, liked what they saw, he said.
If the A’s were to sign a longterm lease in Mesa, it would be a homecoming of sorts for the Oakland A’s once dubbed the — “Crazy A’s” in the early 1970s.
“Even as old as they are they are very impressed at how well we kept them up,” Brady said. “That made it a lot easier.”
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