Over the last several months, I've written a number of posts about the effort to bring a new spring training complex for the Cubs to Mesa, Arizona. During this series of posts I have made no secret of my own feelings about this issue -- I believe the Cubs should stay in Mesa -- and have made several posts on this topic, including two interviews with the mayor of Mesa, Scott Smith.
In the comments to these posts many of you asked whether I would post a different view of this issue if I could get it -- to which I said I would. Thanks to Jim McLennan of our SBN Diamondbacks site, AZ Snakepit, I had the opportunity to pose questions to Derrick Hall, the president of the Diamondbacks. You'll see his responses after the jump.
First, here's a clarification I received from Mayor Smith regarding the so-called "Cubs tax" on Cactus League tickets:
I understand there have questions regarding the amount of money that would be available for teams in the Cactus League other than the Cubs under the current funding proposal. First of all, contrary to reports, funds will be available to all Cactus League teams from the first day monies are collected. Under the rental car/ticket surcharge proposal currently on the table, an estimated $82 million would be collected in the first twenty-five years and would be available for use by teams in the Cactus League other than the Cubs. The Cubs debt will be paid off in twenty-five years. After that, all monies collected will go to teams other than the Cubs. This will provide tens of millions of dollars in additional funds for cities and teams. It is unclear right now what revenue sources and amounts will ultimately be included in the legislation, and these numbers will most certainly change. It all depends on what is finally negotiated at the Legislature.
And, here's an introductory statement that Derrick Hall sent in his return email to me:
Let me begin by saying we want the Cubs to stay here. We would like to collectively identify solutions for them and want to work with them. This is also not a battle between the 14 other teams, Commissioner, and municipalities versus the Cubs. We are all opposed to parts of the legislation - specifically the ticket surcharge, not the Cubs. We believe the legislators hearts are in the right place, but their funding is not the solution.
Follow me past the jump for the rest of the interview. Many thanks to Derrick Hall for his time and his responses.
BCB: Can you state clearly and in detail why you are opposed to one of the proposed funding methods, the ticket surcharge?
DH: We are all opposed to the ticket surcharge because it involves taxing the fans of all clubs and creates a terrible precedent in this bad economy. Our state was hit harder than any other in baseball in this economic downturn, other than perhaps Detroit and Michigan. We have a clear understanding of the statewide budgetary hurdles, and do not want to put any more pressure on our public. We did our due diligence through our RFP process to determine the best possible candidates with the fewest, if any, public funding. Additionally, what do we about teams such as the Angels, who recently put millions of their own dollars into their facility? Or the A's, who asked for $14-16 million in upgrades before extending? They were denied due to the budget constraints of Phoenix, yet still extended. These are just a few examples of monies that would likely need to be reimbursed if we travel down this path. If the taxpayers voted and approved the surcharge, we would be fine with it. We do not agree with legislative fiats, and would rather it go to a referendum. But with that being said, my counterparts at the other 13 Clubs may disagree, because their fans are the ones traveling, yet our residents would be speaking for them with a ballot.BCB: Please give your reaction to this statement by Mesa Mayor Scott Smith: "First of all, contrary to reports, funds will be available to all Cactus League teams from the first day monies are collected. Under the rental car/ticket surcharge proposal currently on the table, an estimated $82 million dollars would be collected in the first twenty-five years and would be available for use by teams in the Cactus League other than the Cubs. The Cubs debt will be paid off in twenty-five years. After that, all monies collected will go to teams other than the Cubs."
DH: I respect Mayor Smith and consider him a good friend. I know he wants to do all he can to keep the Cubs and I admire that. I have seen the numbers and do not see how they add up. We did the math ourselves, and based on what we consider the average ticket price, minus comps, with the proposed 8% number, we would raise less than $1.5 million per year. The legislators' numbers show over $2 million from there to begin with, and begins to escalate to a point well over $7 million per year. I do not understand how such an escalation can be predicted - it is simply not realistic. Additionally, there are other teams that will experience expired agreements in the very near future, such as the Brewers in just two years. Yet, they do not have access to any of the supposed funds until the Cubs have paid off their new complex. We will risk losing teams like Milwaukee, Texas, San Diego, etc. in just a few years from now. My colleagues suggested a hotel bed tax to go along with the rental car tax instead of a ticket surcharge. Who truly benefits from spring training visitors?
BCB: It's my understanding that the new complex the Diamondbacks and Rockies will begin play at next spring will not be subject to the surcharge because it is on native American land. That being the case, why are you opposed to this surcharge?
DH: That is correct in our opinion, which should show that this is not a selfish move on any of our parts. We want what is fair and equitable to all Cactus League Clubs. In years past, we were in recruiting mode. Now, we are in retention mode and need to keep the needs of ALL Cactus League teams in mind. But our fans will be affected - even though they may not receive a ticket increase at our complex, they will when they go to see our Club on the road.
BCB: What are the advantages of building on native American land? What incentives were the Diamondbacks and Rockies given, if any?
DH: The main advantage was the capital capacity. The Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community made it clear that no public funding would be necessary.
BCB: What do you foresee happening to the the Cactus League if it loses the Cubs?
DH: I really could not predict. Again, we do not want to lose them and believe we will keep them here. They are extremely important to the Cactus League and continue to draw the best attendance wise. The Cactus League is strong and will always attract teams due to the weather and travel distances.
BCB: Assume that some public money will be needed to build the new Cubs complex. If you could come up with your own funding mechanism for such a complex, what would it be?
DH: We have given the legislators a few suggestions. The top priority and choice for MLB right now is to propose a bill to the Arizona House of Representatives that would permit municipalities in Arizona to create Local Revenue Allocation Districts ("LRADs") to finance economic development projects within voter-approved districts through the application of incremental property taxes approved by the affected taxpayers. We hope that all parties can come to agree that this will benefit every party.