Strike Three

We Don't Need That Stupid Spring-Training Stadium, And We Certainly Don't Want To Pay Millions And Millions For It.
By David Devine

OK, BASEBALL FANS, and everyone else out there. It's the bottom of the ninth, two out and two on in the Tucson Spring Training Stadium showdown. What's going to happen? Does anyone really care that much about spring training? When will the local media stop using every Baseball cliché imaginable in reporting this story?

A brief recap of what's happened so far:

In the early innings, the Pima County Board of Supervisors pitched the idea of building a new stadium near Kino Hospital. The Colorado Rockies, who'd expressed an interest in exploring "real estate profit incentives" near a new facility, weren't receptive.

By the middle innings of this three-year-long game, the new stadium was being promoted as a wonderful economic bonanza for the community. However, analysis of the math offered to support this sales pitch showed it was high and outside the realm of reality.

So by the seventh inning stretch this past summer, the proposal looked to be in serious trouble. Many politicians said they wouldn't approve subsidizing the new stadium with tax money. But then the supporters of the project threw a curve into the debate. They hit on the idea of a new stadium as a community asset and pushed that theme hard.

However, they were still not making much progress until the late innings. That's when Jerry Colangelo, of the yet-to-take-the-field Arizona Diamondbacks, and Jerry McMorris, of the Colorado Rockies, said they'd head for Las Vegas if Tucson didn't play along with them. This meant someone MIGHT BE BLAMED FOR LOSING SPRING TRAINING FOR TUCSON! After almost five decades of spring ball, that's not a prospect welcomed by some local elected officials.

The Republicans on the Board of Supervisors jumped when they heard this and did everything they could to show their support. And they whined the Tucson City Council was standing in the way of saving spring training for Tucson.

What wasn't said was that the county had rigged the deal so city government was left holding the financial bag on the project. The city would end up spending almost $10 million, and it would be forced to donate a piece of land for the stadium and provide other incentives. What would city taxpayers get in return? A new stadium--which would mean that the existing one would be abandoned, except for a few weeks each spring.

City Councilmember Steve Leal says the Republicans on the Board of Supervisors really didn't think the city could figure out a way to finance the stadium without having the taxpayers subsidize it, so the City Council would get the blame for killing spring training in town, while the county wouldn't have to spend any money on a new stadium.

Under this dirty-tricks scenario, the Board of Supervisors would still be collecting the car rental tax intended to finance a new stadium. But without a facility to pay for, Supervisor Ed Moore and his buddies could spend the money on who knows what.

However, Leal says he's been looking to see if it's possible to build a new stadium without using city taxpayer money.

That appears unlikely. How do you make financial forecasts when a location for the stadium isn't even selected? For several months a site near the intersection of I-19 and I-10 has been pushed in spite of transportation and flooding problems that would be expensive to fix. Some people are suggesting land near Congress Street and I-10, on a site with environmental, railroad and neighborhood conflict issues that would have to be addressed.

Nevertheless, in a few days the game will be over, the issue will be settled. Will local governments step up to the plate with taxpayer money and support a new stadium?

Three last-minute pitches will again be made in support of the stadium:

• The first will be that it's in the best interest of the community. Consider that Tucson has plenty of baseball stadiums and doesn't need another one. If we want more playing fields, we should go right ahead and build them--but we can easily do without the wildly expensive stadium.

• The second pitch will be that for little or no investment of taxpayer money we could build the proposed stadium. But, hey, that just isn't going to happen. Taxpayers will be left to pick up the tab because the baseball teams aren't going to. They're too smart for that. Strike two.

• Finally, the threat of Tucson losing spring training will be brought up to the plate again. The jumping Jerry boys just might take their show on the road. Of course that wouldn't look so good for the "Arizona" Diamondbacks, but where money is involved, what's in a name?

Frankly, if Tucson doesn't have spring training, Baseball life as we know it won't end. The Toros will still be here, and maybe the community should think about making some improvements at Hi Corbett Field for them. So the threat of leaving town is a swing and a miss at a good reason for the community to pay big bucks for a few weeks of games.

Looks like the new stadium idea has finally struck out. TW

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