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Study evaluates potential Cubs spring-training sites

Chicago CubsA study evaluating potential spring-training sites for the Chicago Cubs gives an edge to a site on the fringe of the city versus downtown Mesa — but we’re not sure the project is being judged by the right criteria.

The study, commissioned for less than $20,000 by Mesa officials, evaluates three potential spring-training sites on the basis of visibility, existing local retail, demographics, nearby population, growth rates and more. Now, anyone who has worked in retail real-estate development knows these are the major criteria used to evaluate where to build retail, not where to build a ballpark.

The study looked at three sites: the Riverview Park site on the northwest edge of the city; downtown Mesa, just south of HoHoKam Park; and Recker Park, in the northeast part of the city. Though they weren’t directly compared, Riverview Park comes out better because it has high freeway visibility and there’s already an abundance of retail space in the area.

Which gets us to the core of what’s wrong with the Cubs and their spring-training endeavors: they’re treating this as a development play, not as a ballpark play. Sure, one of the reasons we love spring-training games in downtown Scottsdale is the easy accessibility to a ballpark in an urban core. And we know traffic and visibility are big factors in choosing the site for a new ballpark. But the lack of focus on what actually pleases a baseball plan seems curiously absent from the proceedings. Is high visibility really needed when it comes to a Cubs spring-training site? No one is going to stay home in Chicago because they can’t see the spring-training camp from the freeway.

This attitude seems par for the course for the Cubs these days. The franchise is in some serious disarray: Wrigley Field attendance this season is on a serious decline, and it’s pretty clear the tone-deaf way the Cubs franchise is being run these days is a major factor. (The poor record also plays into it, but that’s part and parcel of the poor way the team is being run. A better owner would have started making changes way before Lou Piniella stepped down.) The Cubs have expressed a desire for the Riverview Park site because it made for a better Wrigleyville retail experience; we never heard anyone in the front office argue it would make a better ballpark experience. Which pretty much typifies everything that’s wrong with the Cubs these days.

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