Playing baseball in Marana
The Colorado Rockies play a Spring Training game in Tucson

Spring training baseball is a hit in Pima County, both economically and socially.

A recent study conducted by the Arizona Department of Tourism shows that the annual financial benefit to the region is around $30 million. Having three major league teams in the county also is a source of pride, a way to show that this area is a player on the world stage.

Unfortunately, more than 60 years of spring training in Pima County could soon become history. The Chicago White Sox are planning to leave, possibly as early as next season, for a new stadium in Glendale. Such a move would allow the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies to break their leases and seek other Cactus League homes, most likely in the Phoenix area.

The only way to keep these teams and recruit others is to be willing to examine all options available in our region, and that includes the idea of building a stadium in Marana.

Steps toward paying for a regional sports facility were taken earlier this month when the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to create an interim Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority. This organization would have the power to tax sectors of the economy, many of which are heavily driven by tourism. That’s preferable to putting the entire bill on local residents.

Pima County youngsters also would benefit. New fields at the complex could be used year-round for youth league events, including baseball, softball and soccer. In fact, at least 25 percent of the money raised by the sports authority would be reserved for amateur sports, something I think we all can support.

The state legislature and voters must also give their approval to a sports authority before any plans go forward, which means it could be 2010 before decisions are reached.

In order to keep big league teams from moving to the Phoenix region – which is scheduled to have a dozen clubs playing there in 2010 – we need to think more like our neighbors in Maricopa County. They already have in place the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, which has financially enabled that region to build several spring training parks and University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL Cardinals.

The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority doesn’t just focus on Phoenix, instead opting to take a regional approach and fund stadiums across Maricopa County. Regardless of where additional sports facilities in Pima County were placed, fans would rent cars, stay in hotels and eat in restaurants throughout the region. Just like during The PGA Tour Accenture Match Play, held annually in Marana, everyone would benefit from baseball tourist dollars regardless of the facility’s location.

The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority already has helped finance the park in Glendale that soon will take the White Sox from Pima County. Goodyear recently finalized a plan to bring the Cincinnati Reds to a facility that already has secured the Cleveland Indians. While Goodyear is financing the new ballpark, it plans to receive Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority money in the future.

Pima County and the Tucson region have another chance at the plate with the formation of its sports and tourism authority. Let’s work together to hit a home run.

Ed Honea is Marana’s mayor and the third of five generations of his family to grow up in the town.

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