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Volume 23 No. 24
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Cubs’ real estate arm now offers its services to other teams

When he describes the role Wrigley Field plays in the entertainment district that the Chicago Cubs owners are developing around it, Eric Nordness uses the analogy of the large magnet you may have built as a seventh-grade science project.

“When the magnet is facing one way and everything is coming to it, that’s game day,” said Nordness, the hotel and restaurant developer the Ricketts family hired to manage Hickory Street Capital, the Wrigley-related real estate arm they created in 2015. “Flip the magnet over and on non-game day we pushed everyone away. It was a repelling experience. Not only was there not the obvious reason to be here, but it was not an attractive place to be.

“For this to work, we had to change that.”

The development of expertise related to that very dynamic — the desire of team owners to develop entertainment districts around their facilities — has led the Ricketts family to evolve that 12-person real estate arm into a sport-focused consultancy that will offer its services to other teams considering similar paths.

As part of the shift, Hickory Street will rebrand as Marquee Development, which aligns with the Marquee Sports and Entertainment sales and marketing firm the family opened two years ago.

Hickory Street unveiled the move to industry insiders earlier this month at a sports development conference that attracted team owners and executives and real estate developers.

A presentation Nordness delivered at the conference revealed the complexity of the project, which included a dozen separate P&L arrangements as the Ricketts family worked through lease agreements with a hotel operator, a bank, six restaurant groups and franchisees from McDonald’s, Starbucks and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

With both a ballpark and the broader real estate project working simultaneously, Hickory Street and the Cubs hired seven general contractors, six architects and six design firms. The construction schedule was affected not only by the unpredictable duration of the baseball season — which ended up extending by a month when the Cubs won the World Series — but also the whims of four Chicago winters.

“When we told these stories of how you build a district, you could see a lot of people go — ‘Oh my gosh,’ Nordness said. “Because I know my team world, but I don’t know real estate. Or I know the real estate world, but I don’t know the team world. How do we marry it?

“Once [the Wrigley project] got stabilized and we weren’t drinking from the fire hose any more — yeah, we should take this on the road.”