PHOENIX — It was a steep investment for the city of Mesa to build Cubs Park, one of the most elaborate spring training facilities in all of baseball.
At a cost of $99 million to build the stadium and infrastructure, plus an additional $7 million to renovate the Riverview Park next door, the city spared nearly no expense to give the Chicago Cubs a state-of-the-art springtime home in Mesa for the next 30 years.
With Opening Day on Monday and the final pitch of spring training already thrown, Mesa officials say they’re well on their way to paying off the investment and feeling good about the Chicago Cubs first spring training season at their new stadium.
“This season exceeded all our expectations with the attendance, the activities and the operation of the spring training facilities,” Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said.
When the team moved this season to their new facility from Hohokam Stadium, the Cubs gained the ability to play in front of about 3,000 more fans, and according to Brady, those seats were more than filled.
The Cubs posted more than seven games with attendances exceeding 15,000 people and, with the average attendance numbers around 14,300 people, Brady said the club broke several spring training records.
“Having over 15,000 at a game is one of the highest that has ever been achieved and to do that seven times in one season is remarkable,” he said.
With ticket prices ranging from $8 for lawn seats up to $32 for field-level seats, the expectation for the park has far exceeded what Mesa officials had planned for and Brady said the park will soon pay for itself many times over.
“Our economic impact when we started this did not assume 15,000 (people),” he said. “So we’re already exceeding our expectations, (and) the economic benefits are far exceeding what we expected.”
The city will be free and clear of its debt to build the park within the next five years through the sale of land the city owns in Pinal County, of which they’ve already received more than $20 million, Brady said.
“We had owned 11,000 acres of land in Pinal County that was purchased back in the 1980s as a contingency for a water source for the city that never really worked out,” he said. “Since then and just recently, about six months ago, we sold or have sold and put under contract all of that land.”
Brady said the developer that is purchasing the land will continue to make payments to the city for a total sum of nearly $125 million, which will go to pay off Cubs Park and renovate Hohokam Stadium for when the Oakland A’s return to Mesa next year.
“It works out very well,” said Brady. “We’re essentially taking an asset that we had in farm land, which really wasn’t producing any income for the city at all. Now we’ve converted all that farm land into the baseball business of spring training and now we can generate all this activity.”
Besides the revenue generated in ticket sales, concessions and parking at the stadium, Brady said the park has a broader benefit to Mesa.
“We estimate the impact on Mesa is over $130 million a year throughout what spring training does just from this stadium,” he said.
During the renovations to Riverview Park and the new stadium, Mesa also opened a “paseo” connecting the facilities to the shops at Mesa Riverview, which Brady said has had a positive impact on the local businesses this season.
“We know the surrounding businesses in Mesa. Some have seen a 30 percent increase in their business with spring training,” he said.
Spring training as a whole generates a lot of revenue for Arizona and the Valley, and with annual attendance numbers continuing to rise since 2007, the economic impact continues to grow as well, said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a statewide economic advocacy organization.
“It’s basically like having a Super Bowl in Arizona every year,” he said. “It’s about $430 million or so directly tied to the spring training time.”
And one of the most important aspects of spring training, especially with a club like the Chicago Cubs, Hamer said is that it draws people from around the country and the world to Arizona and helps the state’s largest industry, tourism.
“We’re drawing in about 950,000 people from outside the state every year,” he said.
Apart from any use by the Chicago Cubs for fall leagues or development purposes, the stadium will not play host to any other teams during the rest of the year, but Brady said Mesa will be looking for ways to utilize Cubs Park with concerts or community events hosted at the stadium.
Mesa expects next year to be even better as the Cubs return for their second season at Cubs Park in addition to the A’s, Brady said.
“Now we can generate all this activity, 15,000 people at the Cubs stadium and we expect, probably not 15,000 at the Oakland A’s, but we expect several thousands of people to come there and we get the benefit,” he said. “The community receives all the benefit now of all the sales tax and the hotel bed tax that comes to the city because of those actives.”