Marana at the plate with sports authority
Explorer file photo, The Colorado Rockies participate in a spring training game earlier this year at Hi Corbett Field. The Rockies could leave Tucson if a third team is not found soon to replace the departing Chicago White Sox.

Marana officials are on board for baseball, but the future of spring training in the area is still few pitches shy of a full count.

The town council voted last week to join forces with the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority to keep professional baseball in the Tucson area.

“We’re going to vote with all the other partners to get the baseball authority through the legislature,” said Marana Mayor Ed Honea.

The focus is not solely on baseball. Attracting soccer and softball tournaments can be just as lucrative, Honea said.

“What we’re trying to do is clearly a regional effort and we need the support of all of the areas around Pima County to make the expansion of spring training and the expansion of youth and amateur sports a reality,” said sports authority chairman Tom Tracy.

Tracy said the authority and its efforts were well received in Oro Valley and Pima County.

The authority was set up in April and is asking for a 0.1 percent increase to the retail sales tax to help fund sporting events in the county.

The effort has hit some snags of late.

The state legislature ended its session before the sports authority’s bill, SB 1084, was heard. The bill would allow for voter approval of the sales tax increase. The window is still open for the bill to be approved in a special legislative session.

Marana has not been a stranger to spring training speculation.

In April, officials from the Colorado Rockies announced they are considering Marana for a possible move from their current facility at Hi Corbett Field if stadium upgrades are not completed. The announcement came at a time when spring training in Tucson is uncertain. The Chicago White Sox made clear their intention to head to Glendale as early as 2009. Without three teams in Tucson, the Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks could leave the Old Pueblo for good.

Migration to the Phoenix area is not restricted teams already playing in Arizona. Three teams who train play in Florida’s Grapefruit League have inked deals out west. The Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida stalwarts since 1949, will all be part of the Cactus League within the next few years, making Arizona the training home to half the Major League Baseball teams for the first time.

Grabbing another Florida team to fill the Tucson gap is still in the picture.

“There are Florida teams that have expressed an interest to come into Tucson,” Tracy said. He said there have been talks with some on them, but would not elaborate on which teams those were.

Sarasota, Fla., former spring home of the Reds, is looking to fill the gap with the Boston Red Sox. The Baltimore Orioles are on a year-to-year contract.

The next Cactus League team to end its contract is the Milwaukee Brewers, whose term to play in Phoenix ends in 2012. After that, the Padres, Mariners and A’s have their respective contracts end in 2014.

Several new players have stepped up to the plate.

Last week, developer David Graham, owner of Orange Sunset Management, announced his plans to construct a stadium and resort in the gravel pits near Sunset Road and Interstate 10. Practice fields, a golf course and areas for retail and office space would sit near the two-team stadium, which will house itself inside a 20-foot pit.

“I saw it as an opportunity of improving the looks of two pits and possibly solving a baseball issue, or at least part of it,” Graham said.

This complex straddles the boundaries of Tucson, Pima County and Marana, allowing the municipalities and county to work together to develop a regional solution to a regional problem, Graham said.

“It’s not really a baseball problem, it’s an attractiveness of Tucson problem. It’s giving people a reason to come here and come back,” he said.

The complex would not be paid for solely with public funds, but also with private investments. For the project to get off the ground though, many agreements would have to be made with the teams and the sports authority in the coming months if the park is to open by 2011.

The project is not meant to be a replacement for Tucson Electric Park, but a compliment to it, Graham said.

Based on what new stadiums cost in the Phoenix area, a new home for a spring training team is estimated between $80 million and $90 million, Graham said.

Another location was mentioned around the time the Rockies made their intentions clear. The northeast corner of Tangerine and I-10, has also been pegged as a possible site. The planned Westcor mall and auto park on the opposite side of the interstate are a catalyst for a stadium location here, Mayor Honea said.

Each of these proposed stadiums sites, though, are in the very early planning stages.

Cactus League teams


Rockies     Tucson     2011

Diamondbacks    Pima County    2011

White Sox*    Pima County    2011

Brewers    Phoenix    2012

Padres    Peoria    2014

Mariners    Peoria    2014

A’s    Phoenix    2014

Cubs    Mesa    2016

Rangers    Surprise    2023

Royals    Surprise    2023

Angels    Tempe    2025

Giants    Scottsdale    2025

Dodgers    Glendale    2028

White Sox    Glendale    2028

Indians    Goodyear    2028

Reds    Goodyear    2029

*White Sox moving to Glendale

Source: City of Peoria

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