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Backed by $99 million from Mesa, Cubs Park set to open

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MESA – With Cactus League games just over a month away, workers are putting final touches on the Chicago Cubs’ new spring training home, built with nearly $100 million approved by voters.

To Marc Heirshberg, Mesa’s parks, recreation and commercial facilities director, the return on that money involves far more than the sparkling 15,000-seat Cubs Park, largest in the Cactus League, and the weeks it plays host to spring training games.

The ballpark and practice fields anchor Riverview Park, which includes a five-acre lake stocked with fish, space for restaurants and shops and a 175-room Sheraton hotel expected to open before spring training in 2015. The complex stretches from Loop 101 to Dobson Road just south of Loop 202.

“We really think this is the draw to help continue to bring people into Mesa, show them what is going on in Mesa, a lot of exciting things beyond Riverview Park as well,” Heirshberg said. “The park invigorates the shopping and the surrounding areas as well.”

The Riverview Park baseball fields will house all Chicago Cubs during spring training and will continue to be a destination for players and personnel throughout the year.

“This is the culmination of three or four long years of work and really finding the Cubs a new long-term spring training, and really year-round training home,” said Justin Piper, general manager for the Cubs’ spring training business operations.

Cubs Park features a beer patio above the left field berm, named 1876 in honor of the Cubs’ inaugural year in the National League. And while there is definitely a Southwestern vibe to the new park, Chicago fans will rest easy when they walk in for the first time, seeing the same brick design behind the home plate and lighting structures similar to those at Wrigley Field.

The new facilities include six baseball fields, allowing major leaguers and minor leaguers to train at the same location. That wasn’t the case at Hohokam Park, the Cubs’ former home in Mesa.

Piper noted that while finding a long-term home for the Cubs was a top priority team officials welcomed an opportunity to expand their collaboration with Arizona’s third-largest city.

“The city is really the Cubs’ partner in this development, and the vision of the residents of Mesa and the city leadership starting with Mayor (Scott) Smith, is what made this happen,” he said.

The project didn’t come cheap for Mesa residents. In 2010, with the Cubs wanting to leave Hohokam Park and being courted by other cities, voters approved spending $84 million on the baseball facility and $15 million on infrastructure.

Heirshberg said this new centerpiece for the city will pay dividends in the long run.

“When we put those bond issues out there and when we ask for support on those bond issues to build these types of facilities, this is the return they can get, and the creativity that comes those projects and that thinking, and that we can continue to do this in the future around Mesa,” he said.

Like Cactus League venues such as Salt River Fields in Scottsdale and Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Cubs Park is expected to be used for concerts, graduations and other events, while city officials see Riverview Park and its surroundings as a year-round draw.

“This is a place you want to come and spend the day,” Heirshberg said. “So hopefully people venture across the street in the Riverview shopping area, grab lunch, maybe to go, bring it over here, and then on the way home they do a little more shopping and grab some groceries on the way home.”