‘One-sided’ Wrigley deal hinges on support for rooftops
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com January 21, 2013 11:56PM
Updated: February 23, 2013 6:27AM
The Cubs served up a fastball Mayor Rahm Emanuel could knock out of the park when they offered to bankroll a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field without a penny of taxpayer money.
The team’s only requirement is that the city lift restrictions on outfield signs and night games and open Sheffield for street fairs on game days.
Whether Emanuel delivers a political home run or swings and misses will depend on whether he’s willing to let local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and the rooftop clubs that have filled Tunney’s campaign coffers to stand in the way of a private investment that’s worthy of five mayoral press conferences.
“The proposal made by the Cubs is the most one-sided stadium deal in favor of the city that I have seen in my lifetime,” Chicago-based sports marketing consultant Marc Ganis said Monday.
“All $300 million would be coming from the Cubs. The only thing the team is asking in return is to have the same rights that every other team in Major League Baseball has. If I were advising Rahm Emanuel, I’d tell him to get it in writing and get it approved before [Cubs Chairman] Tom Ricketts woke up.”
Tunney said he’s willing to help the Cubs with additional night games “sooner than required,” noting that an agreement that caps the number of night games at 30-per-season expires in 2016. He refused to offer a specific number.
But, he said, “I’m not a supporter of putting up signs that block the view of rooftops into the ballpark.”
The aldermen then referred to the laundry list of requests that Ricketts made at the Cubs convention.
“What is he offering the community? That would be the question. More of this. More of that. More of everything. But, what about the community and what is the parking plan” now that the Cubs have scrapped a so-called “triangle” building that was supposed to include a 400-space parking garage, Tunney said.
Rooftops lobbyist John Dunn, who served as director of inter-governmental affairs under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, could not be reached.
“The rooftops are a fabric of the experience at Wrigley Field,” said Beth Murphy of the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association and owner of Murphy’s Bleachers. “Any relaxation of the landmark ordinance that blocks our views violates our current 20-year contract with the Cubs and would jeopardize the tremendous economic contribution rooftops make to Chicago as businesses, taxpayers and members of the community. Destroying one business to benefit the other shouldn’t be the answer — we believe a better solution exists.”
Emanuel’s Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott refused to comment on the Wrigley talks.
Another mayoral confidante was asked whether Emanuel was prepared to let Tunney stand in the way of an elusive deal to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley.
“Probably not,” the mayoral confidante said.
“If the Cubs can make a case that changing something on their own property makes sense for the neighborhood, the mayor will consider it.”
But, the source insisted that Emanuel would not go around the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
“If they want to bring a sign plan to Landmarks, they’re gonna have to use the same process that’s in place. The process exists for a reason. We’re not gonna propose anything that changes the way we do business,” the source said.
Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts , the patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, Tom Ricketts was still hoping to use 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to help finance the $300 million renovation.Emanuel was prepared to sign off on that plan, a $150 million variation of a financing scheme he once called a “non-starter.”
The other $150 million would have come from relaxing Wrigley’s landmark status to allow the Cubs to wring more advertising and sponsorship revenue out of the stadium.
Tunney declared his opposition to key elements of that plan. More recently, the alderman tried to broker a deal that would have paved the way for advertising signs on top of the 17 rooftop clubs instead of signs inside the stadium that could block the rooftops’ bird’s-eye view.
Sources said those talks went nowhere after the rooftops demanded: a share of revenues from any new signage placed atop their buildings; additional capacity beyond the current, 200-seats-per-club limit and a new, 30-year agreement under the same terms that call for them to share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs.
The Cubs have had a rocky relationship with Tunney, in part, because of how frequently he has gone to bat for rooftop club owners who have contributed at least $171,356 to Tunney and another $15,675 to the aldermen’s 44th Ward Democratic Organization.
Tunney drew the line on the illuminated Toyota sign in left field that obscured the view of a Horseshoe Casino sign on the rooftop of a building owned by Tom Gramatis.
Tunney initially argued that the see-through sign was “not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood or the spirit of the landmarks” designation, then agreed to it in exchange for a four-year moratorium on additional outfield signs that expires in 2014.
Opposition from Tunney and area merchants also blocked the Cubs’ plan to close down a blocklong stretch of Sheffield for nine days to make way for street fairs during sold-out series against the Yankees, Cardinals and White Sox.
After forcing Joe Ricketts to shelve his anti-Obama campaign, sources said Emanuel was prepared to re-visit the stalled amusement tax plan. But, the tax plan was put on ice after Gov. Pat Quinn accused Emanuel of blocking the governor’s choice to lead the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to pave the way for a “backroom” deal to renovate Wrigley.
The mayor was not about to do anything that would allow Quinn to say, “I told you so.” That forced the Cubs to switch to “Plan B.”
On Monday, Ganis urged Emanuel to remove the rooftop roadblock.
“The only reason this deal is not happening is because Tom Tunney is protecting the rooftop owners and a couple of bar owners. That has to be one of the most ludicrous situations in the history of sports facility development,” Ganis said.
“Protecting carpetbaggers stealing the product paid for by others for their own profit and, thereby, stopping a $300 million investment, 2,000 permanent jobs and 800 construction jobs along with tens of million of new city taxes. As a taxpayer in Chicago, one has to hope Mayor Emanuel talks some sense into Ald. Tunney for the good of the city.”