Citing what they called “a perfect fit,” the Angels and officials of Tempe, Ariz., announced agreement Tuesday on a 15-year lease that will make Diablo Stadium the Angels’ spring training home beginning in 1993.
The long-rumored agreement will end the Angels’ 30-year tradition of spending part of spring training in Palm Springs. Next year will be their last spring at Angels Stadium, but their Class-A farm club will remain in Palm Springs.
The lack of spectator seating at Gene Autry Park in Mesa has forced the Angels to be the visiting team in Arizona exhibition games. Eager to generate revenues from ticket and concession sales to offset training costs, the Angels found willing hosts in Tempe.
The city’s negotiations with the current tenants, the Seattle Mariners, broke down after the Mariners requested extensive renovations on Diablo Stadium and the addition of practice fields. While Tempe will spend $3.8 million in stadium renovations for the Angels, the city won’t have to build practice fields because the Angels will continue to use their minor league complex at Gene Autry Park in nearby Mesa.
“It’s a perfect marriage because so many people in our area are from California and this makes it easy and close for Angel fans to get to Tempe,” Tempe Mayor Harry Mitchell said at an Anaheim Stadium news conference. “We expect greater attendance than for the Mariners.”
Jim Piper, Tempe’s deputy city manager, estimated the Mariners added $1.3 to $1.5 million annually to the city’s economy. He expects that amount to increase because of Tempe’s proximity to the Angels’ fan base and because Diablo Stadium will be enlarged from a seating capacity of 5,600 to 7,520.
Under the agreement, the Angels will share concession, parking, program and advertising revenues with the City of Tempe. The Angels will also play an annual exhibition game to benefit local community groups and charities.
Angel President Richard Brown said the club can invoke an escape clause should the Cactus League fall below six teams. There are currently eight, but the Cleveland Indians are poised to leave Tucson for Florida after the spring of 1992. However, the National League expansion franchise in Denver is expected to base its spring operations in Arizona.
Brown acknowledged that the Angels had talked with officials in Florida, but he said Tempe was the club’s preference because of owner Gene Autry’s emotional and financial ties in Arizona.
“The best way to Arizona was through Florida,” Brown said. “When we commenced talks (on a new site), Tempe was already taken by the Seattle Mariners and we didn’t start talking to them until Tempe and the Mariners announced they were severing their relationship after 1992. Arizona was our first choice. . .
“The fit was perfect. The weather is better than in Florida, and when you’re based on the West Coast, it’s easier to get to. Our executives can just hop a plane and be there in a short time.”
The agreement between the Angels and the City of Tempe can be extended an additional 10 years, or through the year 2017.
Funding for the improvements will come from a tax imposed on car rentals and recreational vehicle spaces in the Arizona counties of Maricopa, Yuma and Pima. The legislation was authorized recently and signed last week by Governor Fife Symington.
Allocation of the tax money will be decided by the Maricopa County city supervisors. However, Mitchell said “there’s no doubt in my mind” the county will approve the funding. If not, he said, Tempe will delay the improvements rather than scaling them down. The new taxes are expected to generate $2.5 to $5 million yearly, Piper said.
Kevin Uhlich, who headed the spring training site search as the Angels’ director of stadium operations, said remaining in Palm Springs was simply not feasible. “We had the Chamber of Commerce come to us and ask what they could do,” Uhlich said, “but the city itself and city officials, there were just no negotiations. It got to the point where it wasn’t so much the facility as how isolated it was and how far from Mesa. If you’ve got a pitcher who needed more work, you’ve got to go five hours back to Arizona. Teams were bringing split squads. With this, we’ll be a half-hour from five clubs. It puts us in a spot that’s strategically better and we’re 15 minutes from the minor league camp at Gene Autry Park. You’re not going to find a better location.”
According to the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, Mayor Sonny Bono said it would have cost $15 million to renovate Angels Stadium enough to satisfy the Angels. “Obviously this city doesn’t have $15 million,” Bono told the newspaper.