Will Chicago Cubs’ groundbreaking include ASU officials?

The silence has been deafening.

Ever since Arizona State President Michael Crow dropped a bomb heard ’round the state, complaining about the progress of negotiations with the Chicago Cubs over plans for the new spring training facility they were expected to share, there hasn’t been a peep coming out of the university.

But that may have to change soon.  The scheduled groundbreaking for the new baseball complex in Mesa will be here in just five days.  If the two organizations are still planning to partner on the deal, ASU would logically have some involvement in the July 11 ceremony – assuming the date isn’t being moved back to provide more time for reconciliation.

(*Update: The Cubbies showed up on the 11th, but no representatives from ASU.  When asked about it, officials said just that negotiations were still ongoing.  But not going well, if appearances mean anything.)

The reason for the uncertainty stems from a tirade by Crow several weeks ago that called into question the good faith of the Cubs’ organization in negotiations that would enable the ASU baseball team to share the major league facility, while also helping the Cubs fill seats in the stadium when the MLB season isn’t on the schedule.

An article in The Arizona Republic quoted Crow in an email that was made available to the public as saying “The Cubs are not people of their word.” Ouch!

Crow’s comments were totally unexpected, and particularly surprising since he really hasn’t had much involvement in the negotiations between school officials and the Cubs organization, which have been ongoing for the past year.  According to a letter from ASU to its season ticket holders last August, the Cubs contacted the school with an offer to partner with the Chicago Cubs Baseball Club in the development of an $84 million project.

From that point on, everything seemed to be going pretty smoothly – until Crow sent an email to Mesa Mayor Scott Smith in early June, questioning the Cubs’ commitment to the terms of the agreement.

Just weeks before that, a formal agreement seemed imminent, with just a few details left to be ironed out.

It was/is going to be a sweet deal for the Sun Devils, who need to get out of their current home in Packard Stadium, which was built in 1974 and is well past its prime.  Renovating or replacing Packard is expected to cost $20-30 million.  By moving out of it, the school could re-develop the site and use additional revenue to help pay for the renovation of the football stadium.

Under the proposed agreement that is still under negotiations, ASU would be able to use the Cubs stadium rent-free until ticket sales, parking, and concessions generated $1.1 million.

For its part, the school has agreed to build its own practice field and locker room facilities, which is expected to run between $2-2.5 million.

There is another option for ASU, should this deal fall through.  Since the Cubs will be leaving their current spring training home at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa, the Oakland A’s might move in and free up Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

If the Sun Devils were to take over Muni, they would have a major-league facility that seats more than 8,000 fans – and is also just a few miles from campus.  It’s actually 10 years older than Packard, but it underwent a $6 million renovation in 2003.

But it can’t compare to the opportunity to play at the new Cubs stadium, which the club says will be a “world-class facility.”  It would give ASU a much-needed recruiting tool, particularly important since rival Arizona just moved into Hi Corbett Field, a major-league facility that they will lease for the next 10 years.

It’s hard to tell whether the silence that has fallen since Crow’s remarks several weeks ago is a sign that we’re back to smooth sailing… or if its just the calm before the storm.