While spring training is a ‘second Christmas,’ others await anticipated boom

Camelback Ranch in Glendale has hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox for spring training since its opening in 2009. (Photo by Katlyn Ewens/Cronkite News)

Building spring training facilities for big-league clubs is considered an investment by Valley cities that will spur development.

Some of the 10 Cactus League venues have come through, with one city manager calling March the city’s “second Christmas.” Others are struggling.

Here’s a look at how some Cactus League stadiums are doing:

Sloan Park, Mesa

The Chicago Cubs left their long-time home at HoHoKam Park in Mesa and moved into Sloan Park in 2014, a new facility with several nods to the team’s regular-season home, Wrigley Field.

Although HoHoKam was not left empty for long as Mesa lured the Oakland Athletics from Municipal Stadium in Phoenix to a remodeled HoHoKam, it was still controversial as Sloan Park is located just four miles to the west.

Rather than spurring development elsewhere in Mesa, decision makers decided to build Sloan right next to Mesa Riverview, a popular outdoor shopping mall.

Riverview was established in 2005 with Bass Pro Shops as its anchor, according to Mesa city manager Chris Brady. Mesa incentivized Bass Pro Shops through sales tax paybacks as a way of bringing the outdoor retailer to Riverview. Home Depot and Wal-Mart soon followed.

Rather than serving as a development engine, Sloan Park initially drove business to existing shops and restaurants. Since it opened, however, several new businesses — some with Chicago themes — have opened in Riverview.

“We didn’t have to change the behavior of people coming and shopping,” Brady said. “We just added to it.”

Mesa had some hurdles in the beginning, namely keeping fans in the area. Construction was delayed on a Sheraton hotel that was scheduled to be open for the Cubs’ first spring at Sloan Park, forcing many fans to leave the area for post-game activities.

This post-game exodus caused city planners to begin pushing Wrigleyville West, a proposed development area immediately adjacent to the ballpark that is anchored by the Sheraton Mesa Hotel at Wrigleyville West, which opened in 2015.

The hotel, which includes a steakhouse and sports grill, kept more fans in Mesa last year, and the city is in the process of expanding Wrigleyville West to include more restaurants and retail.

Brady said Mesa has far exceeded expectations for revenue generated by Sloan Park. The Cubs sold out nearly every game at the ballpark last year, turning March into the city’s “second Christmas.”

Last March, Mesa brought in $13,815,605 in sales tax revenue, which was more than December and more than $1 million above the previous March, according to Brady’s office.

Goodyear Ballpark, Goodyear

Both of Ohio’s big-league teams, the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds, have called Goodyear their spring training home for five years. The Indians practice facilities were established in August 2008, followed by Goodyear Ballpark in February 2009. Cincinnati’s practice facility was finished the following October.

Development around Goodyear Ballpark has not come as quickly as it has in Mesa. Nearby Phoenix Goodyear Airport anchors the area, but the ballpark is surrounded largely by vacant lots and residential developments.

Blame bad luck.

The practice facilities and stadium were planned just before the Great Recession, and city manager Brian Dalke said the economic downturn delayed development around the ballpark.

Goodyear actively attempts to keep those attending spring training games in the city after the games. Despite not having a robust development around the park, compared to other Cactus League ballparks, the city aggressively advertises retail and restaurant areas located nearest to the ballpark.

Estrella Falls, an entertainment district about three miles from the venue, has proven successful and is still growing. Harkins Theatres will open a location at Estrella Falls this spring, providing another destination for visitors after the games.

Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria

Branding has taken priority over new development in Peoria.

The Peoria Sports Complex, home of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, was constructed in 1994. Mayor Cathy Carlat attributed Peoria’s success to the city taking control from the start.

“We purchased the land and had control over it, which is rule number one,” Carlat said.

Owning the land gave the city control over private development it wanted around the sports complex, she said.

Restaurants, shopping, hotels, and entertainment venues dot the landscape surrounding the facility. The city wants the area to be known as P83, a nod to its location in Peoria at 83rd Avenue.

Many fans and residents have mentioned seeing new P83 signs around the entertainment district, but haven’t seen any new developments. Carlet says that’s all part of branding the area prior to any additional development.

Because the Peoria spring training area is somewhat older than most Cactus League facilities, the city is making improvements and looking for ways to keep the stadium and surrounding areas modern and relevant, she said.

The ballpark has been around for 22 years, but has undergone renovations to keep pace with newer parks. This year, the city completed a three-year, three-phase project that includes 700 seats and the “Colonnade,” a space that holds about 200 people and is available for year-round activities.

Camelback Ranch, Glendale

During the past decade, Glendale has become an epicenter for sports and entertainment in the Valley.

University of Phoenix Stadium is the home of the Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl. It has housed two Super Bowls, college football’s championship game, and will play host to the 2017 NCAA Final Four. Nearby Gila River Arena is the home of the Arizona Coyotes.

Those facilities have spurred development, including the Westgate Entertainment District adjacent to the stadium. Lorraine Zomok, manager of Glendale’s Visitor Bureau, called Westgate “the Times Square of the desert.”

So far, Camelback Ranch, about four miles down the road and flanked by the Agua Fria River bottom and several residential neighborhoods, has failed to spark similar growth.

Though development around Camelback Ranch has lagged below expectations, Glendale still has benefitted because spring training fans have boosted business at Westgate.

As with all businesses, each of the parks have their own set of challenges, but wherever they are in their development, one thing is clear – the entire state’s economy gets a boost from spring baseball.

“Spring training is the gift that keeps on giving every year,” said Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.