As you pass the future Chicago Cubs complex on Eighth Street in northwest Mesa, it’s still hard to guess what it will look like in just a few months.
But City Engineer Beth Huning expects an explosion of progress as the new year nears, leading to completion as soon as next October or November.
Already, Hunt Construction Group has gone vertical with the walls of a large clubhouse that will house the big-league team’s training facilities and offices. And before long, the steel skeleton of the stadium itself should begin to poke from what used to be Riverview Golf Course.
“There’s a lot of things going on all over that site right now,” Huning said — and that includes work at Riverview Park, which will be even fancier than originally planned after voter approval in November of a park-bond package.
As all that unfolds, Mesa is negotiating a deal that will move the Oakland Athletics from Phoenix to the Cubs’ present home, Hohokam Stadium, in time for spring training in 2015.
Nailing down the money
The great lubricant for all this — besides the gas- and oil-propelling giant machines across the now-barren Riverview site — is money.
City Manager Chris Brady has been checking the figures, and is confident everything will add up.
The price tag, which could exceed $120 million for both teams and the park, includes:
$84 million for the Cubs stadium, clubhouse, practice fields and other baseball facilities.
$15 million for infrastructure in and around the Cubs complex, including a basic reconstruction of Riverview Park and its popular lagoon. The lagoon is the chief source of irrigation for the ballfields.
Several million dollars in bond money authorized in the November election to turn Riverview into what Mesa calls a “signature park,” with space for public events, elaborate play areas and other amenities.
About $20 million to retrofit Hohokam Stadium and Fitch Park for the A’s.
Public spending for the Cubs baseball facilities is capped at $84 million because that’s what Mesa voters approved in a 2010 election. The Cubs will pay any bills beyond that.
With bills coming due for Cubs and Riverview construction — including a $60.3 million contract to be approved Monday night by the City Council — Brady is working to sustain the cash flow.
Mesa will sell bonds to finance the Cubs and A’s projects and expects to repay the bonds with proceeds from selling its farmland in Pinal County. A pending deal for that land could fetch $135million, but the sale is still in its due-diligence phase.
This year, Mesa created an economic-development fund for capital costs such as the stadium, and Brady said that fund will be tapped to the tune of $4.5 million a year for baseball until money comes in from the Pinal land sales.
More intimate Hohokam
The deal with Oakland, meanwhile, is still being hammered out.
In contrast with the Cubs, who wanted a bigger stadium, Oakland wants a more compact seating arrangement at Hohokam because its spring crowds are typically smaller than for the popular Chicago team.
Hohokam and Fitch originally were to have gotten upgrades for the Cubs before businessmen in Florida began trying to lure the team from Mesa, triggering a saga that resulted in the Cubs getting a new stadium here.
“When we first met with the Cubs four or five years ago, it was all about expanding and upgrading facilities,” Brady said. “Back then the price tag was probably over $20 million.”
Meeting Oakland’s needs probably will cost about the same, Brady said — but not all of it will come from Mesa taxpayers.
“We don’t expect the city will be putting in the full amount,” Brady said. “We will agree to an amount not to exceed and (the A’s) will make contributions above that. ... Ultimately, there would be a cap for the city’s contributions.”
Brady said Mesa is negotiating with the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which was created to fund athletic facilities in Maricopa County.
The authority has reserved $8 million for Mesa, Brady said, and the city believes it should be used to help the A’s move into Hohokam.
“We think having $8 million for our facilities is important,” Brady said. “We frankly believe it should have been made available for the Cubs stadium, but we were turned away there. These are regional dollars. We really believe the city of Mesa should get some return on those regional dollars.”
Other money for spring training will come from Mesa’s hotel-bed tax, which Brady said is expected to generate $350,000 a year for that purpose — about $10 million over the next 30 years.
Brady said Mesa and the A’s are negotiating for a 30-year lease that would return the team to the city that hosted them from 1969-78. That span was Oakland’s most glorious era, with consecutive World Series titles 1972-74.
Stadium rolls along
Meanwhile, most of the progress at the Cubs site remains underground.
Huning said the hole for the lagoon is 26 feet deep, and a lot of dirt has been dug from the stadium site itself. There, the field will be below grade, so as patrons walk in they’ll be looking down at the playing surface.
How the stadium will look from the outside is still being decided, Huning said. But the city released a new rendering showing the ballpark from the outfield looking toward home plate, with an upper deck providing shade and an old-fashioned feel somewhat evocative of the Cubs’ home in Wrigley Field.
One feature that’s still in the plans: An unfinished 10,000-square-foot space that would have been a clubhouse for ASU’s baseball team had ASU and the Cubs agreed on terms for mutual use of the stadium. That idea died in November.
Huning said the space, colorfully described as a “warm, dark shell” in planning documents, will be built for future use by the Cubs or some other entity.
Exterior design for the stadium is 90 percent complete, Huning said, and design for Riverview Park, including the new bond-funded amenities, is about 60 percent along.
Within a year, visitors should be able to stroll the grounds of both.