3/14/2013 12:46 A.M. ET
'Wrigleyville West' should be a desert gem
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- When you drive by the Cubs' new Spring Training site, you'll mostly see a lot of dirt. But on the site, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts sees a great future for the team and the city of Mesa.
"This is a big win for the team to get this started," Ricketts said of the new facility, scheduled to be completed in December. "It's a big win for our fans who go to Spring Training, it's a big win for the city of Mesa, it's a big win for economic development for the whole area, to be honest, so everybody's winning.
"It also translates into literal wins," Ricketts said. "When I look out, I see 'W' flags. We have to build a foundation of first-class facilities throughout our organization."
The 144-acre site is located at the intersection of Highways 101 and 202 in east Mesa, and for now, is called Wrigleyville West. Mesa voters approved spending $84 million on the project, which includes a 15,000-seat stadium and a 70,000-square foot clubhouse. The Cubs currently have a Minor League facility at Fitch Park; HoHoKam Stadium is just north on Center Street where Spring Training games are played.
The new site will combine the Major and Minor League operations, although they will have separate clubhouses. All players will share the 9,000-square foot weight room, which will be the largest of any Major League team in either Arizona or Florida.
On Wednesday, Ricketts, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and other Cubs officials took the media on a tour of the new site. There are actually three separate projects combined: commercial space, the Cubs space and city space. Part of the area will be a park to be used by Mesa residents.
There also will be a 28-foot-deep lake. Smith joked that Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, wanted to hold a fishing tournament and had to make sure the lake could accommodate that.
"This is much more than a baseball stadium, it's an experience," Smith said.
The Cubs use their Mesa facility now for 11 months out of the year, as players take advantage of the site to rehab from injuries and train for the upcoming season. It also hosts Arizona Fall League, Rookie League and instructional league games.
The new stadium will feature a party deck in left field, which will be similar in concept to the rooftops that surround Wrigley Field in Chicago. Fans also will be able to take advantage of a picnic-type experience and spread a blanket on the grassy berm in right field.
At least, they will when the grass is installed. Right now, there are only concrete retaining walls that outline the field.
The good news for anyone who has attended a game at HoHoKam: traffic patterns should be better, with improved access to the new stadium on gamedays. A hotel and retail area also are planned for the site.
In May, the Cubs will also unveil a new academy in the Dominican Republic. Now that the Mesa project is well underway, Ricketts' last hurdle will be the $300 million renovation plan for Wrigley Field, projected to take five years once he gets some matters resolved.
"There's a handful of issues left, and we're working them out with the alderman and working them out with [Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel]," Ricketts said. "If we're going to be in the ground in October, we have to get some resolution in the next few weeks."
The plan will be done in stages, and the hope is to begin after the 2013 season.
"It's an incredible project for the city [of Chicago] in terms of the number of jobs we create -- the 2,100 jobs we create -- the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, the tax dollars created, and of course, just the general economic activity that comes with tourists coming to Wrigley," Ricketts said. "The incentives are there. I think we'll get there."
Ricketts, who unveiled the renovation plan at the Cubs Convention in January, met recently with Emanuel to go over some of the issues. Among the items on the Cubs' wish list is to add advertising in the ballpark and increase the number of night games. The hope is to have all matters resolved by Opening Day, April 1.
"Before we green light the project, we want to know what the deal is," Ricketts said. "What we said in January was that we'll pay for the project, but we also need to have control of our ballpark, and that's still our position."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.