Longform

BOB's a Bust

Page 6 of 8

Like tourism promotion, Cactus League funding was not on the table last summer when Governor Hull asked Ferris to spearhead discussions with the Cardinals. During the January press conference, task force members raised the specter of the Cactus League being stolen by Las Vegas unless new taxes were passed.

While some of the 10 teams in the league might be looking for new sites, at least six are locked into long-term contracts from 12 to 20 years. The teams signed lengthy contracts because the public sector already has contributed tens of millions of dollars to upgrade and build new spring training facilities.

Since 1993, the Maricopa County Stadium District has spent $71 million on construction and renovation at five spring training facilities, including: $3.7 million for Tempe Diablo Stadium for the California Angels; $21.5 million for the Peoria Sports Complex for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners; $6.75 million for Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the Oakland A's; $17 million for HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa for the Chicago Cubs; and $17 million for Maryvale Stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Funding for the stadium district spending spree comes from a $2.50 surcharge on rental car contracts. The district cannot spend any more money on spring training facilities unless it finds an additional revenue source. Supporters of the Cardinals stadium tax say they will earmark up to $180 million over the next 30 years to help build and upgrade Cactus League facilities.

Ferris and others also cite the possibility that Arizona can lure the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers to the Cactus League in a pre-emptive strike against Las Vegas, which is in the preliminary stages of trying to attract at least four teams to the city. The Dodgers and Rangers currently train in Florida.

"One option would be to create one additional two-team complex, and have one of the teams be the Dodgers," Ferris says. "That's the big plum. Vegas is going hard after the Dodgers."

The Rangers and the Dodgers confirm they have held discussions with Las Vegas, but officials with both teams say there are no immediate plans to relocate.

John Blake, a spokesman for the Rangers, says the team has one more year on its contract in Port Charlotte, Florida. "We have made some inquiries in Las Vegas, Arizona and Florida. We could be staying here," he says.

While Las Vegas may be an attractive location, Blake says there are concerns about the windier, cooler weather compared to Arizona or Florida.

Dodgers spokesman Derrick Hall says the team is also weighing all options and has "no timetable" to make a move.

The Dodgers are the only major league team that owns its spring training facility, the luxurious Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, Florida. The center includes villas for the players, golf, tennis and swimming facilities as well as a 4,000-seat stadium, four other major league fields, two half fields, outdoor and indoor batting cages, conference rooms, and weight training rooms.

"They got everything you can possibly imagine there," Hall says.

The implication is that if Arizona officials want to lure the Dodgers, they had better spare no expense.

Despite the stadium task force's rhetoric, there doesn't appear to be an immediate threat to Arizona's Cactus League, which attracted 904,000 fans in 1998, more than half from out of state.

"I think we are in pretty good shape," says Dale Sagebiel, Maricopa County stadium district chief financial officer. "The Cactus League we have right now seems to be pretty stable. We will have some concern in a couple of years when some of the leases come up."

Stadium boosters also have raised the possibility that the Fiesta Bowl could be stolen by Houston. The task force concluded that the Fiesta Bowl must leave Sun Devil Stadium or risk becoming relegated to a second-class college bowl game.

But like the Cactus League, the Fiesta Bowl seems in little danger of losing one of the nation's premier college football games.

"We've told anyone who will take the time, who will listen, not to be alarmed about the immediate future," says Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker.

Problems may loom five years down the road, Junker says.

As cities build new stadiums to keep and attract NFL teams, the Fiesta Bowl will also face increased competition from cities seeking to host major college games. Houston has quickly become a major concern for the Fiesta Bowl. The city has already agreed to build a new $375 million football stadium, and there are strong indications that Houston will go after the Cardinals if Arizona refuses to build a new stadium.

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John Dougherty
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Amanda Scioscia
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