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Chicago Cubs Still Looking at Florida for Spring Training

Gov. Charlie Crist huddled Tuesday with Chicago Cubs executives and emerged talking up the prospect of the team moving its spring training operations to Collier County.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney were making their second trip to Florida and have said they narrowed their choices to three possible sites in the Naples area. The team has trained in Arizona since the 1950s.

“This could be a job creation activity as well,” Crist said, adding, “when you’re talking about the Chicago Cubs, you’re talking about a brand that is so well-known that it is revered around the world, not just in America.

“To have even a shot to have this great franchise to spend at least part of their season – the spring training time – in Florida, would be exceptional,” Crist said.

The Cubs can leave Mesa, Ariz., following the 2011 spring training season. But it would cost the team a $4.2 million buyout.

Meanwhile, Rickets and Kenney have also met with Mesa city officials to discuss other sites in the area for a new stadium complex.

Also joining Crist in the meeting was Dale Brill, executive director of the state’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. A price-tag on a new stadium complex and training facility is being put at between $75 million and $100 million, with a mix of private and public financing likely sought.

If the Cubs moved to Southwest Florida, epicenter of the state’s housing collapse, the team would likely close its minor league facility in Daytona Beach, officials said.

“One thing that’s important for us is that this is a year-round facility,” said Kenney. He added, “It’s 11 months of heavy activity. It’s a chance -- the Ricketts family, which has challenged all of us, to think world class.”

The Ricketts family bought the Cubs in August for $845 million from the Tribune Company, owners of the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Tribune is owned by real-estate magnate Sam Zell, whose debt-laden purchase of the company drove it to file for bankruptcy last December, although the Cubs were not part of the filing.

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