SBD/April 16, 2013/Facilities

Rooftop Owners Intend To Enforce Contract With Cubs Over Wrigley Field Renovations

It is unclear whether the Cubs' deal to renovate Wrigley affects rooftop owners
Chicago rooftop owner Beth Murphy said that she and fellow owners "haven’t seen the Cubs’ renovation plans and wouldn’t say whether the group would take the team to court if any of their views were blocked" in the proposed $500M renovation plan announced yesterday, according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Murphy said, “We have a contract with the Chicago Cubs and we intend to see that it’s enforced." Murphy added the rooftop owners “hope it doesn’t get to (litigation).” Murphy: “Without seeing the plan, we really can’t comment on it. It does seem that it’s a possible violation (of the contract).” Murphy said the rooftop owners are “not trying to block” the Cubs’ construction plans, which the team hopes to begin after the '13 season with a new clubhouse, training room and dugout. Murphy "believes the Cubs can begin that part of the project before resolving the separate signage and Jumbotron issues." But the Cubs "would like to get everything in the plan revolved before starting construction." Murphy: "I’m hoping we can work together and figure something out. But we will certainly try to enforce our contract. ... We have a contract with the organization and it has 11 years to go.” A rooftop spokesperson said that the rooftop owners "have paid the Cubs 'over $20 million' since the contract began, as well as the amusement, county and state taxes" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/16). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joe Barrett notes previous team owner the Tribune Co. "agreed to a 20-year deal in 2004 that required the rooftop owners pay the team 17% of their gross revenue" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/16).

MY KIND OF TOWN: The AP's Don Babwin noted the Cubs said that the "rooftop views would be 'largely preserved' and that the sign and screen are 'far less than our original desire for seven signs to help offset the cost of ballpark restoration.'" Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts "would not say what the team means when it says the signs would have 'minimal impact' on the views from the rooftops." He also would not "discuss the likelihood of a lawsuit." He said, "We will take that issue as it comes" (AP, 4/15). In Chicago, Sachdev, Dardick & Byrne note Ricketts "cautioned that some of the team's wish list has to go through a democratic process of community input and zoning hearings." Ricketts "indicated that he expects to win approval of his restoration plan without significant alterations" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/16). Ricketts said, "If this plan is proposed, we will win the World Series." In Chicago Greg Hinz noted Ricketts was "pretty cagey on when work would begin and what exactly was involved, saying only that rebuilding the player clubhouse is near the top of the list" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 4/15). Meanwhile, the TRIBUNE's Sullivan writes the Cubs' decision to add a 6,000-square-foot videoboard is the "political equivalent of the hidden-ball trick." The scenario is "almost as jarring as dropping a spaceship into historic Soldier Field, obscuring the colonnades that made it an iconic American sports venue." Ricketts yesterday called himself "very traditional." But he said that fans were "asking for a better game-day experience." The Cubs said that polls "show fans want a Jumbotron." Cubs Senior VP/Strategy & Development Alex Sugarman said, "We found 60 percent would actually be in favor of a video board as long as it didn't interfere with the historic scoreboard." Cubs Senior VP/Community Affairs & General Counsel Mike Lufrano was asked why the Cubs "didn't reveal their Jumbotron plan during" the team's fan convention. Lufrano: "We've had things we've been looking at as to where it will go. But obviously we're working through some of those issues as to where the placement is" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/16).

IN IT TOGETHER: In Chicago, Fran Spielman writes there are "still big discrepancies between what" Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has "agreed to support and what the Cubs say they need to preserve Wrigley for 50 years and make it the moneymaker Ricketts says he needs to turn the Cubs into a perennial contender." The team’s five-year construction plan "also calls for 'no compensation' to Chicago taxpayers -- either for air rights over Clark Street to accommodate a pedestrian bridge linking the hotel to a new office building and plaza or for taking out a lane of parking on Waveland and a sidewalk on Sheffield to extend the right- and left-field walls outward to minimize the impact of those signs on rooftop views." Ricketts when asked why Emanuel and Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney were not at yesterday's news conference joked, "It's cold and dark and kind of out of the way." But he added, "The fact is, we're all together on this" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/16). Also in Chicago, David Haugh writes what "began as Ricketts' grand plan to upgrade a dilapidated facility that makes winning a World Series even more challenging for a woebegone baseball team effectively has become a citywide referendum on the Cubs." It was "special enough that Ricketts left millions on the table by negotiating exclusively with the city." Without ever "entertaining the idea of investing his family's half-billion dollars elsewhere for a greater return, Ricketts reaffirmed his commitment to Chicago." But is Chicago "as committed to Ricketts?" If Ricketts eventually "gets everything he wants, the lack of government assistance still makes the deal the worst among Chicago's five pro sports teams and the most lopsided in the majors." All Ricketts "really won" yesterday was a "method that would allow him to spend his own money -- but it easily represents the Cubs' most significant victory since his family bought the team" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/16).

LOOSE CHANGE: In Chicago, Rick Telander wrote, "Not only did this thing take about four years to come together, but its glacial formation helped provide an excellent smoke screen for a team that is about as bad as they come in the major leagues." Telander: "All this renovation and building will cost about a half-billion dollars." That is "chump change for the Ricketts family, which is too smart to use its own piggy bank when wondrous things such as bonds, notes and loans are available." It is "not certain this deal won’t get sued back to the Bricks-and-Ivy Age by that renegade band known as the rooftop owners, who have 11 years left on a contract with the Cubs that guarantees them an unobstructed view" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/16).

TRANSLATING TO THE FIELD: ESPN CHICAGO's Bruce Levine wrote the renovation proposal "does not address how soon the baseball department" headed by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein "will be able to add significant free agents." Ricketts said, "We anticipate it will be helpful to get financial flexibility to the baseball team before the end of the five-year term and process. We will see that sooner I am sure." Epstein and his "baseball people may want to know how soon." The fan base could "waver if it takes five years to put a championship product on the field." The Cubs' payroll has "dropped" $40M since '08, the "last season the team was in the playoffs" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 4/15). In Chicago, Phil Rogers writes Ricketts "loves Wrigley Field but knows he's not a miracle worker." Ricketts "didn't say when the Cubs will win their first championship since 1908." But he "plans to be there when it happens" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/16). ESPN CHICAGO's Jon Greenberg wrote, "Maybe once this deal is finished, the Ricketts Cubs will stop whining about their limitations and act like a big-market organization again." The Cubs were "never going to move." Greenberg: "Dumpy old Wrigley Field is a cash machine for the Cubs. A new one with enhanced revenue capabilities might as well double as a U.S. Treasury mint." The Cubs in the coming years "will get their new TV contract, which will line their pockets and pay off the debts incurred to buy the team and rebuild the stadium." It is "all about the money, and there's nothing wrong with that" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 4/15).
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