SBD/Issue 45/Facilities & Venues

Cubs Seek To Borrow Up To $300M From State For Wrigley Work

Ricketts Plans To Match State's Investment In
Wrigley With His Own Outside The Ballpark

Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts will ask the state of Illinois to "borrow up to $300 million in a bond offering to make extensive renovations at Wrigley Field that would ensure the team can play at the historic ballpark for another 50 years," according to Ameet Sachdev of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Ricketts Thursday said that the Wrigley preservation plan "would not hurt Illinois taxpayers," as it "would not require new taxes or an increase in existing taxes." Instead, the Cubs "would like to shift money from expected growth in ticket-tax revenue to the 96-year-old stadium." The Cubs' proposal calls for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns U.S. Cellular Field, to float $250-300M in bonds. The bonds "would be paid over 35 years through amusement taxes that Wrigley Field customers pay." Ricketts and his family also "pledge to match the state's investment in the ballpark with their own investments in redeveloping land outside the stadium." The Cubs in '09 paid $16.1M in amusement taxes to the city of Chicago and Cook County through a 12% levy on each ticket, and the team "proposes that the city and county would be guaranteed this amount for the duration of the bonds." But Ricketts said that the "incremental growth in amusement taxes beyond" $16.1M, "either through increased ticket sales or increased ticket prices at Wrigley, would pay the bonds over time." Ricketts is "seeking a safety net in case the amusement tax does not cover the bond payments," and he "would like the bonds to be backed by revenue streams that are assigned to the facilities authority," including a 2% hotel tax. The financing plan "requires the approval of the Illinois General Assembly." State Senate President John Cullerton's spokesperson John Patterson said that the senator "will sponsor the legislation and plans to move it forward in the veto session that begins next week." Sachdev notes "asking the city and Cook County to forgo any future increase in amusement taxes from Wrigley Field may be a tough sell with each dealing with mounting budgetary woes in a tough economy." But Ricketts said that the state borrowing "would do more than pay for Wrigley improvements that might otherwise take years to complete without help." It also "would allow Ricketts to invest in the neighborhood" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/12).

FAMILIAR PLAN: In Chicago, Fran Spielman notes Ricketts' plan is a "slight twist on a plan" Chicago Mayor Richard Daley "rejected two years ago." Former Cubs Owner the Tribune Co. in '08 "floated a more ambitious renovation plan financed by 30 years of sales and amusement tax growth generated by the stadium project." Daley "emphatically and repeatedly shot it down, at a time when taxpayers were being hit from all sides." But Cullerton said of Ricketts' plan, "The state is not affected by this at all -- other than to ensure that the Cubs stay at Wrigley Field for decades to come." Ricketts: "It's not about adding seats. It's about saving the stadium and making the fan experience better. Other ballparks have player amenities that we don't. We need to catch up to them. I don't see any circumstances under which we would leave Wrigley Field in the short-run. But, we also know it's a 100-year-old ballpark, and we're gonna have to address the issues of playing there someday. We'd rather do it now than waiting around" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/12). ESPN CHICAGO's Bruce Levine reported Ricketts Thursday sent a letter to season-ticket holders stating that the Cubs are "looking for economic relief from the Illinois General Assembly." But "what was not stated in the Ricketts letter was what the Cubs would do if the state Assembly doesn't produce a bill to help the organization get tax relief." Ricketts: "There is no Plan B. The goal is to get the issues at Wrigley taken care of. If we don't get this bill passed, and we don't have the resources to do it, we're going to have to regroup and think how we're going to get it done" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 11/11). The Ricketts family has "created an email for supporters" at renovatewrigley@cubs.com (MLB.com, 11/11).

TAKING A STANCE: A CHICAGO SUN-TIMES editorial is written under the header, "Let The Cubs Pay For Their Own Fixer-Upper." The editorial: "If this deal goes through, future Chicago mayors could be forced to raise taxes and fees elsewhere or cut basic city services even more deeply. And for what? To fix up a privately owned baseball park for one of the most profitable sports teams in the country. Talk about a corked bat. ... They can pay for their own home improvements" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 11/12).

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