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Naples: We think we still have shot at landing Cubs spring training

The folks looking to develop a new spring-training base for the Chicago Cubs in Naples, Fla., say they think they still have a shot at landing the team, but we’re not sure whether or not this is purely a case of wishful thinking.

Today is the soft deadline for the city of Mesa to put together a funding plan for a new spring-training complex in that city. We say “soft” because there have already been several missed deadlines for the city to come with a plan; each time the Cubs and the city agree to keep working on the issue.

So even if nothing happens today, we don’t expect the Cubs to walk away from Mesa, especially if there is solid progress toward a deal. There is a ton of institutional sentiment within the Cubs to stay in Arizona; the team has cultured a large spring-training fan base, and many Cubs players and executives winter in the area. Asking all of these folks to make a move to Florida would be quite the aggressive move.

Which is why we’re more than a little skeptical that the Cubs are actually serious about entering into talks with Naples developers, much less pulling the trigger on the move. They’re arguing that the whole agreement between the Cubs and Mesa will be null and void at the end of business today because the state legislature didn’t approve funding for the project.

Of course, Mesa says a subsequent agreement covers that.

At the end of business today, we don’t expect major changes in the Cubs’ spring-training situation: the city will continue to look for sites and put together a financing plan. And we don’t expect Naples’ situation as a potential spring-training home to be any different. Here’s what we wrote 10 days ago based on some off-the-record discussions with Cubs officials:

The original agreement between the Cubs and Mesa ends July 12, which in theory would free the Cubs to negotiate with other parties for a new spring-training facility. We’re told by Cubs officials that’s not likely to happen, though: with Mesa poised to pick up the estimated $84 million cost of a new training complex, there’s little doubt a new complex will happen. The much-ballyhooed competition between Florida and Arizona over a Cubs complex never really materialized, to be honest: the inclination by Cubs officials was always to stay in Arizona, where the franchise has put down some pretty deep roots.

So it looks like a new agreement committing the Cubs to Mesa could come before the end of the month. The only real variable here: Mesa voters must approve city spending on a new complex and a hotel tax hike in a November referendum. Should the referendum not pass (we’ve not seen any polling on the question), the Cubs would be free to walk away from the Mesa deal.

UPDATE: Cubs owner Tom Ricketts apparently agrees with us, confirming what other Cubs officials told us. Here’s what he told ESPN:

“We’re working with Mesa and we’re looking to get a proposal that works. Right now I’m not focused on any type of deadline. [We’re] just trying to get a deal that works for everybody….At this point I hadn’t had any contact with Florida in a while. You know, we’ll talk to Mesa and see where that ends up.”

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