City of Mesa throws Cubs a softball – will taxpayers cry foul?

by Carrie Ann Sitren
Goldwater Institute

Mesa pitched a softball to the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and the Cubs hit it out of the park – but taxpayers should cry foul. Under a new contract, the city will shell out $84 million to build a sparkling new stadium for Cubs spring training. The city promised an additional $15 million for parking, power lines, and other infrastructure, on top of costs for maintenance and capital improvements for 30 years.

The Cubs, on the other hand, will pay around $130,000 annually to the city in rent ($4 million over 30 years). At that rate, it will take literally hundreds of years for the city to break even on its investment. The city must demand more from the Cubs.

Framers of the Arizona Constitution wisely adopted a Gift Clause to ban governments from subsidizing private businesses at the taxpayer’s expense. Mesa’s new stadium deal appears to violate that clause by building a multi-million dollar stadium for the Cubs without requiring the team to return a roughly equal benefit.

When voters authorized public spending for Major League Baseball in Mesa, they didn’t vote away the Constitution. City officials were required to secure a guarantee of direct public benefits from the Cubs in exchange for the city’s $100+ million investment – but $4 million rent doesn’t cut it. There are no guarantees of jobs or tax revenues, and the Cubs can leave with few penalties.

Early in the process, the Goldwater Institute met with city officials, recommending ways to keep the Cubs without violating the constitution. Regrettably, the city adopted none of our suggestions.

Cubbie spring training in Arizona, with all its rich history and tradition, may be intrinsically priceless to some (including yours truly). But the constitution requires a commitment to provide direct, quantifiable value to the public. If the Cubs are confident that they can make the city’s $100 million stadium worth it, then the city should demand that the team step up to the plate and promise performance.

Carrie Ann Sitren is an attorney with the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

Learn More:

Goldwater Institute: Regifting the Gift Clause: How the Arizona Constitution Can End Corporate Subsidies

Goldwater Institute: Proposals to fund new Cubs stadium risk constitutional violations

New York Times: As stadiums vanish, their debt lives on


  1. Mayor Scott Smith was victorious in his effort to keep the Cubs in Mesa. I think he paid a great price to do that. When Highground get Smith elected as the next Governor of Arizona, I am sure he will change his ways and become more conservative… Just like Gov Brewer, whos first act was to promote a tax increase.
    Lets keep promoting these faux conservatives so we can gripe and grumble in the background as the insiders (like Chuck Coughlin at Highground, and Smiths son at Highground) keep raking in the profits by selling the their influence on the Gov and laugh all the way to the bank. I think the rumor is that HG has the beer concession at the new stadium, ok, I made that up, but you know they got something from the deal. Maybe the Cubs are a HG client.

  2. not exactly a surprise. Glad I wasn’t suckered into voting for it like obviously others did. These kinds of deals never end well for the taxpayer.

  3. My one beef with the Gomdwater Institute is their desire to go against the will of the voters.
    64% of us in Mesa voted for the Cubs and Mesa’s plan. Nothing has changed since that election. GI pretends that the city is giving money to the Cubs or that the Cubs own the stadium-neither of which are true.
    There are scores of direct and tangible benefits. Jobs both temporary and permanent, millions in tax revenue from having the team here, and lots of indirect benefits from being the home of the Cubs.
    I moved to Mesa when I retired. I only knew about this place because for 20 years I’ve been coming out here to watch games.

    If the GI is serious about this, then they better start writing their letters to the DBacks and Suns about their lease rates. As I’ve come to hear, a mighty generous donor to the GI is one of the owners of the DBacks.

  4. To your comment Fred, the people approved both by overwhelming majorities which means that lots and lots of Republicans voted along with them.
    I don’t think either are shying away from what they backed.

  5. cubs win (mesa loses) says

    Mayor smiths son lobbied the city on behalf of the cubs (in his capacity as a highground employee). High ground represts both the cubs and smith. Father and son are on “different” sides of the table, but really working together on fathers political interests, and mayor smith abandoned his duties to residents and sold us out (to help his – and his sons – political careers). Brazen.

    Conflict of interest? Incestuous bargains? Inappropriate dealings?

    You bet.

    The while thing reflects very poorly on high ground, mayor smith, and mayor smiths son. (wednesdays all knew the cubs were trying to take the city for a ride … While smith clan was profiting from it)

  6. I love Arizona. Mesa Conservatives will rail against any tax, voters in Mesa get absolutely rabid about votes to stop any tax increases, but they vote for give aways like the Cubs ballpark or Waveyard. People like Smith and the Waveyard champion, Matt Salmon, waive their conservative credentials all the way to the bank.
    @Gene – The voters may have approved it but that doesnt make it smart or right! The voters also picked Obama. Maybe you just lay down and go along with the morons, but I would rather voice some opposition to the liberals (and the corrupt) and at least call them out on the fraud that they pass for the acts of conservatives.

  7. Fred-the Mesa taxpayers just voted fr their first property tax in 60 years. They also approved the Cubs during the most Republican cycle in probably the history of the state. Mesa voters will approve the things they want and believe in.
    I think 2/3’s of voters in Mesa will disagree with you that’s it’s not right.
    I consider myself very very conservative and this deal was structured in a very good way that does not give away the farm and protects the taxpayer. Mesa needs the revenue and these are the types of deals that make sense.

  8. Ryan Smith says

    Against my better judgment, I’m going to waste my time responding to an anonymous attack riddled with inaccurate information.

    Fred and whomever else cub win pretends to be, you spin a good tale. Sadly though, you fail in many regards.

    No HG doesn’t have the beer concessions at the new stadium. It would be nice to be Rojo Entertainment and double dip but no dice there. Highground ran the Prop 420 campaign, just as we have run dozens of campaigns in Mesa and the East Valley and that’s it.

    We didn’t lobby on behalf of the Cubs or the City, before or after they went to the legislature at the beginning of the year, and we were not involved or hired until the election was called and underway. The city did not hire us. The beauty of campaigns is that the finances are very open and transparent.

    I won’t even respond to the accusation that somehow my dad profited from it.

    A Mayor’s duties are to advance economic development opportunities, and represent their constituent. Keeping the Cubs fits that bill pretty well. Apart from also being approved unanimously by the City Council, none of whom I am related to.

    My response really only needs to be one sentence-Mesa voters approved Prop 420 by a 2-1 margin (that’s 63% for those that aren’t good with fractions).

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