Mesa Historical Society weighs moving Spring Training museum, other options

July 22, 2013

A recent decision to remove the Spring Training Museum from November's Mesa bond election has organizers considering the project's next step, which could include relocating it to a different city.

During a study session at the July 8 Mesa City Council meeting, Mesa Historical Museum CEO Lisa Anderson requested the council remove the $17 million Spring Training Experience — formerly called the Cactus League Experience — item from the bond election package. The council agreed to remove it and approved the other bond items totaling $130 million.

"The whole thing came about fairly quickly, and I think that's what led to the decision to hold back," said Highground vice president of community affairs and project spokesperson Robert Johnson in a recent interview. "In the end, we decided it would be better to wait a little longer."

At the meeting, Anderson said the Historical Museum wanted to explore new opportunities that arose in the week following discussion of the Spring Training Experience Play Ball! exhibit at a July 1 study session. One of the opportunities Johnson mentioned was moving the location of the Spring Training Experience out of Mesa and to a different Valley city if an agreement isn't worked out.

"Everyone has a say in how this goes; we'll see," he said.

Johnson, who didn't say which cities were in contention, emphasized Mesa "remains in the lead" because it's the place where the idea for the museum was created.

The proposed location for the museum in Mesa is near the Chicago Cubs' new stadium, also known as "Wrigleyville West" scheduled to open for the 2014 Spring Training season.

"If we can get the right arrangement, the right agreement, that's where it will be," he said.

The Historical Museum currently operates the essence of the Spring Training Experiences under the auspices of its Play Ball! exhibit, which features approximately 4,000 pieces of baseball memorabilia at its site in Mesa located at 51 E. Main Street. Johson said the Play Ball! exhibit will remain at the downtown Mesa location until a permanent facility is completed.

Since its inception in 2008, the exhibition has shifted around the region and taken road trips to ballparks in the greater Phoenix metro area during Spring Training season. Long term, however, Johnson said the museum needs to find a permanent location that is not set in a strip mall, which he said is "not good enough."

"That model is only good for so long and, frankly, it's holding us back," he said.

The organization's vision for the museum is a 22,000 sq. foot building complete with exhibits, meeting and office space, an auditorium, a place to store the collection and other amenities.

At the July 1 study session, councilmember Dave Richins compared the project to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. While Johnson said the museums have similar models, he said the Spring Training Experience would be a larger facility and have a deeper collection than the Ohio-based exhibition.

And he expects it to be much busier than the Cincinnati museum or even the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., if it's "done right." The motivation for the optimism stems from the state's climate, which he says leads many youth and travel teams play tournaments in the Phoenix area throughout the year.
"This will be busy all year round, there's no doubt about that," he said.

Also fueling Johnson's projections is the Spring Training Season, which brought in more than 1.7 million fans in 2013. If 20 percent of the 1.7 million attendees, accounting for 340,000 people, visited the museum during the Spring Training Season, he said it would triple the attendance of the Cincinnati Reds bring in every year and bring in more than $3 million in gate sales alone.

"You could literally make your budget in March and live off that," he said.