The Oakland As have accelerated negotiations begun in November with Mesa to move spring training from Phoenix Municipal Stadium to Hohokam Stadium in 2015. The Chicago Cubs, the biggest draw in the Cactus League, are leaving Hohokam for the new Riverview development at Dobson and the Loop 202 in 2014. New Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton dryly told Channel 12's Brahm Resnik that he had "inherited" the situation — (and these are my words) one of many messes left behind by the lost weekend that was Phil Gordon's second term. Stanton promised to do "anything reasonable" to keep the As, but "we have to be fiscally responsible." Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers' contract at the stadium in Maryvale (to me the most pleasant spring training venue, but one that lacks the splash and comfort of north Scottsdale) expires this year and it's unclear if they will renew.
Spring training in Arizona was once a sweet, simple thing. After World War II, the then New York Giants started play at the old Municipal Stadium, while the Cleveland Indians built Hi Corbett Field in Tucson. In 1951, the Cubs came to the old Rendezvous Park Stadium in Mesa. The teams traveled by train and their arrival at Union Station was always a big event. For years, the Cactus League had eight teams (although they came and went). When I was a child, tickets were cheap, even star players were close and the atmosphere was easy-going and small town. This persists today at some spring training facilities, but it's become big business, and like much else in our society, cities are played off against each other to surrender the most tax dollars to further enrich the already rich.
The question is whether Phoenix should do much, if anything, to keep spring training in the city?
But Phoenix is probably out of this game. The suburbs have spent too much money already to lure Cactus League teams. They have the affluent residents and the newer infrastructure. It's too bad that none of the stadiums are reachable by light rail or other transit. That's another externality that's not priced in. And you can bet that without Jerry Colangelo, the Suns and Diamondbacks regular season would be played out on the fringes, only accessible by car. Still, tourism, including spring training, creates low-wage jobs. Of all the assets Phoenix is losing to the suburbs, spring training is the least of them.
I once supported stadiums as a way to keep major league teams, which are among the many amenities helpful to attracting quality companies and jobs. Now I am anti/curious if not outright anti-stadium. The owners got too greedy. In too many cases, the cities were losers and the ante was always being upped: More, more, more. In Seattle, the Sonics new owners tried to blackmail the city. This was stopped by a group called Citizens for More Important Things. The Sonics went to Oklahoma City and Seattle barely broke stride. Now a new potential owner is trying to put an arena right next to the football and baseball stadiums, near the light rail line and Sounder commuter trains, just south of downtown. Seattle is attractive because of its higher-quality economy.
Mayor Stanton has more important things to address: Creating, retaining and attracting high-wage jobs; extending transit; healing linear slums (make a start) and building an economy that provides upward mobility for the large immigrant and other working poor population. He has inherited a disaster, however much energy the boosters put into "everything's fine" denial. He must triage. Then he must get some hits.