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Cubs in Mesa for at least 25 more years

MESA, Ariz. -- An agreement that would help keep the
Chicago Cubs' spring training home in Arizona cleared a hurdle Monday, winning approval from city officials in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

Under the deal, Mesa would build an $84 million stadium and
training facility for the Cubs, and the team would stay in Arizona
for at least another 25 years. State lawmakers still need to
approve legislation to finance and build the stadium, and Mesa
voters will need to approve it in November. But city officials see
those as minor hurdles.

"The Cubs, they have a 50-year history with the city," Mesa
City Manager Chris Brady said. "Everyone knows them and we're
pretty optimistic we'll get the support."

The Cubs also must decide to give Mesa exclusive negotiating
rights by the end of the week for the deal to move forward, Brady
said.

City officials in Naples, Fla., are trying to lure the Cubs away
from Mesa, where the team first trained in 1952 and has played
almost every spring since.

As the top draw during spring training in Arizona, the Cubs
routinely attract overflow crowds to their current 12,623-seat
training facility.

To keep the Cubs in Mesa, city officials plan to build a
15,000-seat stadium and a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse with locker
rooms, a nutritional center and other amenities. Also under the
proposed deal, the team would manage the stadium, have naming
rights and control of signage, and wouldn't have to share the
facility.

Cubs president Crane Kenney has said the team's long history in
the desert will be a factor in the decision.

"It is very important," he said. "In a lot of ways, tradition
is what the Cubs organization is about."

Brady said keeping the Cubs in Mesa is important for the city
and the state.

"We've done the economic-impact studies that show there's over
a $50 million economic impact annually to the state of Arizona,"
he said. "And more intangible, but significant, is the branding --
the idea that Mesa, Arizona, can associate itself with the strength
of the brand of the Cubs, and use it to attract tourists and
businesses."

As part of the agreement, Mesa wants to use tourist taxes to pay
for the stadium.

Councilman Scott Somers said Mesa's ability to recover from the
current economic slump is dependent on the Cubs remaining in
Arizona.

"It's not going to happen if we retreat, if we go back into the
closet and we hide in our shelves and we stick our head in the sand
and we don't make a plan," Somers said.

Seven residents addressed the council before the vote, with
those against the agreement arguing that no tax should be used to
attract private business. Those who supported the deal said the
Cubs would provide a much-needed economic engine for Mesa.

One resident, Gary Sievers, sang in support of the agreement,
tweaking the words to the team's song, "GO CUBS, GO."

"Stay Cubs, stay," he sang. "Mesa has the drier heat, Naples
causes sweat and sleet. ... Mesa makes Chicago glad. Naples -- one
big hanging chad."