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First look at new spring complex for the Cubs


On what used to be a golf course, Cubs will conduct spring training

Even as the Cubs were saying goodbye to HoHoKam Stadium, their longtime spring home on the north side of Mesa, a new complex was rising from what used to be fairways and greens at the city's Riverview golf course. The new complex is certainly state of the art (in more ways than you think), and will finally provide the team with a spot where both their Minor Leaguers and Big Leaguers can train together.

Scott Owens of Hunt Construction and David Bower of Populous took me on a private tour of the complex, still under construction, on October 10, 2013. Because the plan is to turn everything over to the Cubs in about six weeks, the majority of the work had been completed. Let's take a look at what we saw.

First, a word about the location. I took the shot above as my flight was preparing to land at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. This gives you a good sense of where the new complex is located, as the major highway running across the shot horizontally is Loop 202. The vertical freeway is Loop 101. That means that the complex is indeed in Mesa, but barely. Just to the west of the 101 is Tempe (ASU's campus is a mere few blocks away). North of the 202 is Scottsdale.

The spots of green in the exact center of the image are the practice fields. The buildings just to their right are the clubhouse and batting cages. To the right of those are more practice fields (as well as a rectangular grass field that will be used for parking) and then the main ballpark.

While the clubhouses, training facilities and batting tunnels are impressive, the star of the show is, of course, the ballpark. There is a lot of "Wrigley" in this stadium (and we'll go into that in detail in our in-depth review of the complex in March), but there's also some HoHoKam here, too. The areas that are down the foul lines on the upper level have a similar feel to HoHoKam, right down to the trellised overhang.

And here's a news flash for you (just remember: you read it here first): there are *no* fixed seats on the upper level. None. When I first looked around here, my assumption was that the fixed seats that always go in the front of luxury suites just hadn't been installed yet. Nope! Everything on the party decks and in front of the suites will be movable furniture -- patio chairs, tables with semi-circle tops, etc. This way, the groups using the spaces can arrange the furniture as they wish. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been done before on this scale.

The press area is also on the upper level, as it should be. The radio booths (above left) have two different levels, as many in the Majors do. The space for the writing press (who liked to be called "the working press") is by far the largest I've seen at a spring-training park.

Many of Arizona's spring-training attendance records were set by the Cubs at HoHoKam, so there was no "let's make it smaller and more intimate" thinking like you see at many new regular-season ballparks. The intent is for this facility to hold more fans than any of the other ten spring parks in the state. With about 9,000 fixed seats, room on the berm for 4,000 and another 1,000 or so on the upper level and roof-top patios, the Cubs' new park should achieve that goal.

The berms are especially huge. So is the berm at Talking Stick at Salt River Fields, but the hillside there is pretty darn steep. Not so at the new Cubs' facility. Oh, and the batter's eye will be made up of trees. Nice touch.

Speaking of trees, a grove of citrus trees is being planted beyond the right-center field berm (above left). Nice touch, because Mesa was a hub for citrus growth in decades gone by.

And you knew that the designers weren't going to miss the opportunity to have some roof-top space here. A three-story building beyond left field contains the visitors' clubhouse, offices and concessions and, on top, a roof-top party deck.

An interesting choice when finalizing the site plan was to put the Cubs' clubhouses a pretty good distance from the ballpark. A beautiful walkway is being constructed between the two, and it's on this pathway that the players in uniform will walk to go from their lockers to play in the exhibition games. Talk about a fantastic autograph opportunity.

The major-league clubhouse is a beauty, with 60 wood lockers arranged in an oval so that no player is stuck in a corner.

These are just a few of the highlights of this impressive new complex, which should cost about $84 million when all is said and done. We will be scrutinizing the completed complex in great detail in our in-depth review when they start playing baseball there. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts about the complex (no, not the team) in the space below.