The ballpark, located on a 140-acre site in west Mesa, which was the former Riverview Golf Course, will seat up to 15,000 people. It's the largest in the Cactus League, and not only includes a new complex that the team will use year-round for training and rehab, but also a park and pond to provide a new recreation area in the city. The total cost was $84 million.
"What's also very, very special about the mayor's vision and what we have here today is it's going to be the best fan experience in all the Cactus League and probably all of Spring Training," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said.
Fans are encouraged to arrive at the facility early to take advantage of the park, watch the workouts, then go to the games. Ninety percent of the seats will be in the shade, but there will be plenty of sunny spots in the bleachers and berm for those snowbirds eager to catch a few rays.
"We're lucky in that we're the last of several new facilities in the Cactus League, so we looked at what we believed others had done well and we looked at where we felt other stadiums had fell short," Smith said. "We feel we created something that's the best of all worlds."
Ricketts would like to do the same with Wrigley Field in Chicago, but a proposed $500 million renovation plan for the 100-year-old stadium has been stalled because of challenges by rooftop owners opposed to additional signage in the outfield.
"We're working to a point where we can get started," Ricketts said of the Wrigley plans. "Everyone is talking, everyone has incentives to see us get to that point. We're optimistic we'll get to the finish line on that pretty soon. It's a process and we just have to play through it."
Ricketts said "everyone has an incentive" to get the Wrigley project completed.
"Everyone wants to see it get to the finish line and we're working toward it," he said.
Smith interrupted and said he's talked to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel about Wrigley, and also encouraged him to get the plan done.
But Mesa was the focus on Wednesday. Fans will sense a Wrigley feel to the new park, especially with the light standards and the brick on the walls. They are trying to grow ivy.
"As it evolved, we realized we're creating something that not only feels like Wrigley but, man, if you stand out in those bleachers and look back, it eerily looks like Wrigley Field," Smith said. "I won't say it's by accident, but we didn't start to try and replicate anything other than the experience that fans had, and to maximize that experience, and we think we've done it."
The Cubs had threatened to move to Naples, Fla., if they couldn't get a new complex in Mesa, and Smith said that threat was very real. Spring Training brings $130 million a year to Mesa, and Smith said the Cactus League is the city's "Super Bowl."
It's also important for the Mesa community's psyche to keep the Cubs, who have played in the city since 1979.
"I was amazed when I went around Mesa during the election as to how many people had Chicago connections and most of the time, they had moved here, transferred here, retired here, you name it," Smith said. "A lot of times their first visit to Mesa was for Cubs Spring Training. There's a real connection between the Phoenix metro area and Chicagoland. Losing that would've been huge for our community. That's one reason why I think people voted. They recognized the social and cultural and really identified who they are. You can't separate Mesa from the Cubs."
Joining Ricketts and Smith at the ribbon-cutting ceremony were board member Laura Ricketts, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, president of business operations Crane Kenney, Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. There were balloons, bagpipes, and perfect weather with sunshine and temperatures in the upper 60s.
One person missing was Robert Brinton, who helped turn the Cactus League into a major tourism draw and was a huge booster of baseball in Mesa. He passed away in October 2011, but his widow Nanette, and family were in attendance.
Mesa City Councilman Dave Richins said the facility was missing one thing, and that was a world championship banner. The Cubs are working on that. Kenney acknowledged new manager Rick Renteria in the crowd and said, "This is yours going forward."