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Naples: We’re serious about landing the Cubs

Private groups, not government, are pushing a plan for a Wrigleyville South in Collier County; it is, they admit, "a long shot."

Developers in Naples and Collier County held a press conference yesterday to announce their intention of land the Chicago Cubs and fill out some details of those behind the campaign. And while their campaign is indeed a very long shot — their words, not ours — they've certainly attracted the attention of new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

Chicago-based Esmark and Naples-based Fifth Avenue Advisors say they can put together a bid for a 120-acres spring-training complex that would rival anything Mesa or the Gila River Indian Community could provide; they say Florida is a better location for spring training than Arizona because of amenities like beaches. 

Esmark may be an odd choice as a development partner: the firm isn't a developer, but rather an industrial firm working mainly in fields like oil exploration and metal coatings. The firm also does work in the sport-management field, mainly in the form of owning and operating a tennis club in Naples. But it's nothing major, and certainly nothing on the level of an $80-million spring-training camp.

"The Chicago Cubs are exploring Naples as a potential spring training venue and have been working with Chicago-based Esmark Sports Management in that regard,” Kenney said in a statement released by the Cubs. “Our site visits and discussions confirm Collier County has a number of suitable locations for a world-class spring training facility."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement: locations are a dime a dozen, but funding plans are what's important, and so far no one has stepped forward with one. Still, our friends with the Cubs who reassured us the team would never leave Mesa or Arizona aren't quite so firm in their convictions at the moment; one way to really shake up how the Cubs go about their seasonal business would be to shift spring operations to Florida. People assume it's a minor change to move from Arizona to Florida, but it's a major operation: the move involves more than just the major-league club and involves instructional leagues, rehab setups and the like — today a training camp is a year-round operation.

The Naples bid is, however, a decided long shot — but long shots sometimes finish first.

RELATED STORIES: Ricketts to visit Mesa next week to tour potential spring-training sites; Lawmaker: Florida should up spending to lure spring camps for Cubs, Brewers; Cubs' spring-training future doesn't lie in HoHoKam Park; Mesa delegation to pitch Cubs on spring-training facilities

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