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Marana pitched as site to save spring training

Citizen Staff Writer



A proposal to keep spring training in the county includes building a $125 million spring training facility in Marana that could be shared by three Major League Baseball teams.

The proposal was in a report released Monday by the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, a nonprofit organization sanctioned by the Pima County Board of Supervisors last year.

The proposed Marana facility comes after a request by the Arizona Diamondbacks for a new spring training facility.

“We responded to their requests for proposals,” Tom Tracy, chairman of the sports and tourism authority, said Monday.

The offers to the two remaining MLB teams conducting spring training in Tucson don’t mean the teams plan to move outt next year. The Diamondbacks’ contract with Pima County for use of Tucson Electric Park runs through 2012 and the Rockies’ pact with the city to use Hi Corbett Field expires in 2011.

The Chicago White Sox left TEP last year for a new facility in Glendale, paying Pima County $5 million to buy out its contract.

The Diamondbacks last month announced they were seeking proposals for a new spring training complex that would include a 13,000-seat stadium, 12 practice fields and clubhouses. The facility could be shared with the Rockies, if officials of that team also want to relocate. TEP seats 11,000; Hi Corbett 9,500.

“There are definitely options we could share. We work together well,” Rockies president Keli S. McGregor said Monday.

McGregor said there are no alternatives to Hi Corbett Field for the team to use in 2010.

“If you are talking about a new facility, the earliest realistically is 2011,” McGregor said.

A move north to Maricopa County would put the Rockies and Diamondbacks among the 12 other MLB teams that conduct spring training there.

But the absence of spring training teams in Pima County would cost about $30 million annually to the local economy in lost hotel, restaurant, tourism and other service industry-related business, a county study showed last year.

Tracy said a Marana facility would leave both TEP and Hi Corbett without MLB teams for spring training.

Authority members also are negotiating with a team from Japan’s professional major leagues to use TEP for spring training and play against MLB teams in Arizona’s Cactus League. That idea has been sanctioned by Major League Baseball, Tracy said.

Both facilities could be used to host youth and amateur baseball tournaments on a national scale.

“Taken together, these elements will combine to make Tucson a year-round baseball mecca from T-ball to pro ball,” the authority’s report states.

Pima County, though, lacks the funding mechanism Maricopa County has to entice spring training teams from Tucson, as well as Florida.

The Maricopa County Sports and Tourism Authority was created in 2000 by voters there to levy a tax to build the Arizona Cardinals’ new football stadium in Glendale. But the authority went beyond that mandate and used additional tax revenues to fund new spring training facilities such as the $80 million Glendale stadium that is now home to the Los Angeles Dodgers and White Sox.

Pima County last year tried and failed to get a similar bill through the Legislature to authorize an election asking voters to approve a new tax on hotels, car rentals, bars and restaurants and other businesses that benefit from spring training.

Tracy said a similar effort is being made this legislative session to get such a measure on the ballot countywide in November or with a special election in May 2010.

Without a third team in Tucson, the city could lose both the Rockies and Diamondbacks because of contracts that call for at least three MLB teams to conduct spring training here.

The Rockies have said they don’t necessarily want to leave Hi Corbett Field, but they want extensive upgrades to the stadium and related facilities that the city likely will not do.

The requested $15 million face-lift would include new home and visitor locker rooms, a bermed outfield, upgraded concessions areas, and more shaded fan areas, Tracy said.

So team officials are looking around for another home.

“We have had substantial talks with other people and we have not been able to have substantial talks down here,” McGregor said. “We have seen that writing on the wall for some time.”

Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall recently complained that Pima County has not done needed upgrades to spring training facilities or playing fields, which is why the team is considering a move.

That was in response to a letter from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry to sports authority members in which he criticized the team for seeking a new spring training facility “at a minimum cost of $115 million with no costs to be borne by the Diamondbacks organization.”

Citizen sportswriter John Moredich contributed to this report.

Marana pitched as site to save spring training in county

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