Tired of trying to placate rooftop owners, the Cubs will move forward with an even more ambitious plan to renovate Wrigley Field. | Artist's rendering courtesy of Chicago Cubs
Cubs to push forward with expanded plan for Wrigley renovations
After months of nowhere negotiations, the Cubs declared an impasse with rooftop club owners Wednesday and essentially declared war — with a new proposal to build seven outfield signs, including a second video scoreboard, 300 new seats and new outfield lights.
The decision to ask Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked Commission on Chicago Landmarks to dramatically enhance the already generous package approved last summer is aimed at provoking a lawsuit by the rooftops that’s been years in the making.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts acknowledged just that in a carefully crafted “video message” to Cub nation.
“During the political process to accommodate rooftop owners, we tapered the plan to move forward with a sign in right field and a video board in left. But in the months since, the rooftop owners have made clear that, despite the city approval and our clear contractual rights, they plan to file lawsuit to try and stop our renovation and expansion plan,” Ricketts said.
“We’ve spent endless hours in negotiations with rooftop businesses. We’ve gotten nowhere in our talks with them to settle this dispute. It has to end. It’s time to move forward. I have to put the team and the fans first,” he said. “So today, we are going forward with our original plan. We are proposing a master plan to expand Wrigley Field and to have several signs in the ballpark.”
Ricketts did not explain details of the new doozy of a request that will be presented to the Landmarks Commission on June 5. It includes:
- A second video scoreboard in right field — in addition to the already approved jumbo screen in left field that will now be reduced to 3,990 square feet.
- Four more LED signs throughout the outfield, each up to 650 square feet.
- 300 additional seats in the “Budweiser Bleachers” and 300 additional standing room positions to reclaim capacity lost to prior renovation plans.
- New outfield light standards inside the ballpark, rising 92 feet, so that fly balls will be lit from both the front and back; the intent is to reduce notorious shadows that have made fly balls an adventure for outfielders.
- A 30,000-square-foot clubhouse beneath the new outdoor plaza, up from 19,000 square feet in the original plan.
- Relocating both home and visiting bullpens from the foul lines to a protected area under the expanded bleachers.
In an emailed statement, Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for rooftop club owners, whose revenue-sharing agreement has 10 more years to run, noted that Cubs President Crane Kenney and legal counsel Mike Lufrano negotiated the contract with the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association over a decade ago.
“The Ricketts family’s decision to unilaterally end negotiations with their contractual partners is another refusal to accept any of the proposed win-win solutions that could have funded the modernization of Wrigley Field and enhance the team’s competitiveness,” the statement said. “In fact, it appears their zeal to block rooftop owners who pay them millions of dollars a year in royalties knows no bounds. Unfortunately, this decision by the Ricketts family will now result in this matter being resolved in a court of law.”
Ricketts defended the revised request in his message to Cub fans.
“We need to press ahead with the expansion. We cannot delay any longer. The time to build a winner is now. Our plan will provide more revenue for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to invest in building a championship ballclub. Our plan will provide more revenue for our business operation to expand and preserve the greatest ballpark in baseball,” Ricketts said.
“I know this plan is in the best interest of our fans and our players,” he said. “We hoped to avoid heading to the court house. But the most important thing is we want to exercise our right to preserve and expand the ballpark we all know and love.”
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, tried desperately to forge a deal with the Cubs and rooftop club owners who share 17 percent of their revenues with the team.
At one point, he thought he had a deal to move the scripted sign in right field to the top of one of the rooftop buildings. But, when the rooftops made a similar demand about the video board in left field, the talks fell apart and O’Connor was never able to put them back together.
“At one point in time, everybody thought we were there. And it turned out we were wrong. There’s so many individuals and disparate interests, it just became apparent it wasn’t gonna move any further,” O’Connor said.
The revised proposal may appear to be so big as to invite rejection by Emanuel’s appointees on the Landmarks Commission. They are the final arbiter, since the City Council has already approved a “master plan” for new signs and will not get a second chance to vote on it.
But, O’Connor said, “My impression is, this is a very real proposal. They made an effort to try and resolve this for the short term and basically have been unsuccessful. I would think if it conforms to the landmark ordinance, they have a right to it — and my impression is, it conforms. There’s a very good possibility” it will be approved.
Emanuel would dearly love to break ground on the revenue- and job-creating Wrigley project before the Feb. 24 mayoral election. That’s apparently why City Hall struck a similar tone.
“Like all Cub fans, the mayor doesn’t want to wait for next year and if this proposal helps the Cubs get closer to a ballpark renovation this fall — and the jobs and neighborhood investments that come with it — it’s worth taking a look at,” Sarah Hamilton, the mayor’s communications director, said in an emailed statement.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley, lamented the collapse of the negotiations with rooftop club owners, who are among his most reliable campaign contributors.
“They’ve got to work out some kind of arrangement with the rooftops for the duration of their contract. That’s not new. I oppose the additional ask. That’s all I can say. I’ve been opposed to this additional signage from the beginning. It’s a violation of their agreement with the rooftops,” Tunney said.
“I can’t postulate what their motives are. They want to have as little regulation as possible. I don’t agree with that. Government is there for a reason,” Tunney said. “We’ve been very generous. We have approved a lot of things and a lot of signs as part of the planned development. I believe signage is a critical part of the money needed for the renovation. They have a right to ask for as much as they can get. It doesn’t mean it’s gonna get approved or that it will solve the potential litigation with rooftop partners.”
Apparently referring to the protracted battle that preceded the installation of lights at the century-old ballpark, Tunney said, “If it goes to court, it goes to court. In the history of Wrigley Field, there have been a lot of court battles.”
Last year, the City Council approved Ricketts’ $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it, including two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project without a public subsidy.
Until now, Ricketts had refused to proceed with construction without a guarantee that the rooftops would not file suit to block the project.