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Crist meets Chicago Cubs reps, trying to lure team to Naples

Gov. Charlie Crist said he is willing to go "as far as possible" to lure the Chicago Cubs to Florida for spring training after meeting Tuesday with the team's leaders in Tallahassee."

Anything we can do, within the difficulties of our current budget, that we can do," the Republican governor said. "We like palm trees better than cactus and we hope the Cubs do, too."

The team's current facilities are located in Mesa, Ariz., but the team can exit its 20-year contract in January at the price of $4.2 million. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, whose family bought the team earlier this year, said the franchise is looking for a larger stadium and he likes the Naples area, which he visited for two-days in October. "We have a lot of fans there, which is a plus," he said.

Crist declined to discuss specific incentives but a legislative committee indicated last month that it is preparing a possible bid to lure a major league baseball team to Florida for spring training. Crist said he considered recruiting pro sports teams "a job creation activity."

A private investor group led by Craig Bouchard, vice chairman of Esmark in Naples, put together a $100 million proposal for the team. Team President Crane Kenney said if the Cubs moved to Florida, its Daytona Cubs, Advanced Class A team, likely would also move to Naples.

The meeting with the governor is part of a bidding war between Arizona and Florida, one that pits U.S. Sen. John McCain against Crist, his ally and almost-running mate in 2008.

The Arizona Republic reported that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, the state House speaker and the Mesa mayor made a pitch to keep the team a "pull-out-all-the-stops" welcome for the new Cubs owners in early November. McCain made a video appearance at the meeting.