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New Cubs training facility, Wrigleyville West slated for 2014

Eagerly waiting for a new Chicago Cubs spring-training facility? Here’s the schedule: a new ballpark probably won’t open until 2013, with a proposed Wrigleyville West entertainment district opening in 2014.

The enormity of the task in creating a retail complex at a spring-training facility seems to have been realized both by Mesa officials and the Cubs front office. The initial emphasis will be on completing the spring-training complex, which should open at some point in 2013 (it’s unclear whether it can be done by the end of January that year).

But the project was not sold to Mesa residents just as a new spring complex; it was sold to voters as an economic-development tool, with the city spending $99 million on the project ($84 million on the ballpark, $15 million on infrastructure), although we’re guessing voters would have approved city funding of the complex without any economic-development initiatives, as it passed easily and the Cubs are beloved in town.

Right now the plan is to open the complex with a walkway leading up to the ballpark lined with vendors in a festival-style setup. It’s a far cry from the restaurants, stores and hotels done up in Wrigley-style brickwork pitched by the Cubs, but it’s actually not a bad idea: it will give the Cubs and local officials some idea of demand, and it allows things to get moving without any huge investment. (A hotel, though, would make sense; it would draw at Riverview Park because of freeway access and proximity to the airport.)

Thing is, we’re not sure this is actually the better long-term plan anyway. When looking at spring-training complexes, there really aren’t any that generate economic activity year-round: downtown Scottsdale does fine but it’s certainly not because of Scottsdale Stadium. Even popular complexes where minor-league teams play year-round, like Steinbrenner Field or Bright House Field, don’t generate nearly enough foot traffic to warrant building an entertainment complex. (It would be interesting to see whether the many businesses surrounding Peoria Stadium located there because of the spring complex or whether growth would have naturally located there anyway.) We know it’s the trend right now to position a spring-training complex as the center of economic activity — the Red Sox made the same argument in gaining public funding of a new Lee County complex — but without a workable model out there, it’s hard to see what sort of tenants will commit to 12 months of lease at a remote part of Mesa where there’s little chance of foot traffic 10 months out of the year. Yes, there will be some locals screaming bloody murder if Wrigleyville West is delayed indefinitely or even scrapped, but perhaps both Mesa and the Cubs would be better off waiting for the retail economy to improve before moving forward.

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