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Ricketts: New Wrigley Field revenue needed for Cubs to stay

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:31AM

The Cubs need the millions in revenue that Wrigley Field renovations would generate or the team will have to consider moving, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said Wednesday.

“If we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our outfield. we will have to take a look at moving. There is no question,” he said.

Ricketts, speaking after presenting plans for a $300 million renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley to the City Club of Chicago, said the possibility of moving is not a threat.

“There’s no threats,” he said.

“We are committed to working this out,” he said. “We’ve always said we want to win in Wrigley Field.”

In his presentation, Ricketts said “All we really need is to run a business like a business and not a museum.”

On Tuesday, the Cubs took the wraps off their plan to renovate Wrigley with taste, subtlety and a sense of history, but insisted the team needs every square inch of new signage, city sidewalks and streets — and every one of the night games and 3:05 p.m. starts — to make it work without a public subsidy.

“If you are renovating a large public asset like Wrigley Field that brings tourism dollars and enormous tax receipts in — in every city, you get significant financial incentives to do it,” said Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations.

“We may only get some use of sidewalks and a lane of street. I’d take the several hundred million dollars [over that]. That’s a very good trade on the mayor’s part…compared to what happens elsewhere.”

To bankroll the plan, Ricketts says he needs the millions that would be generated by a 6,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field, a 1,000-square-foot sign in right field and 35,000 square feet of advertising on a 91-foot high hotel and open-air plaza he plans to build outside the stadium.

Ricketts has further demanded: 10 additional night games; six 3:05 p.m. starts; a Class L property tax break and “no compensation” to Chicago taxpayers — either for air rights over Clark Street to accommodate a pedestrian bridge 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 outfield signs on rooftop views.

On Tuesday, the Cubs gave the first detailed look at the entire project—and the first architectural rendering of its most controversial element: stadium signage.

The sheer size of the video board—three times larger than Wrigley’s iconic center-field scoreboard—might be expected to overpower the outfield.

But the panoramic view displayed by Kenney sought to minimize the impact and understate the blockage on rooftop clubs that share 17 percent of their revenues with the team.

The rendering showed a video board with built-in light banks to address a shortage of outfield lighting.

The 1,000-square-foot see-through sign in right field displayed the illuminated words “Wrigley Field,” as a place-holder for a sponsor.

Kenney said he has no idea how many of the rooftop clubs would have their bird’s-eye view of the stadium blocked or impaired by the two new outfield signs.

He noted that both signs are strategically positioned in front of buildings with no rooftop seating: the old Budweiser building that now includes a United Airlines sign in left and the Miller building in right.

“We don’t know if it’ll have any impact on anyone, to be honest. We have to do some mock-ups…We’re gonna work to minimize the impact on the rooftop partners,” he said.

“Our partners pay us to have those views. That business is helping us to a degree. We’re trying to make everybody as happy as we can and still provide the resources we need for the club.”

Rooftop club owners have threatened to file a lawsuit, calling the outfield signs a “direct violation” of their revenue-sharing agreement with the team and a landmark ordinance that protects the “uninterrupted sweep” of the bleachers.

Kenney is a Tribune Co. holdover who negotiated the rooftop agreement that has 11 more years to run.

On Tuesday, he said, “We have a right to put these revenue-producing signs up under the contract.”

Before displaying the rendering of the new outfield signs, Kenney showed an actual photograph of the outfield at Boston’s Fenway Park, Ricketts’ model for all things Wrigley.

It includes three video boards, a Green Monster sponsor, signage from one foul pole to the other and 50 new signs — all since Fenway was restored.

“Everyone’s given them applause. It absolutely fits with the character of the building,” Kenney said.

That begged the question: Will two outfield signs be enough for Wrigley? Or is the current request just a down payment on future signage?

“The question is, how close to the Fenway model do we want to come? You take it in pieces,” he said.

“We don’t want to have a jarring impact on our fans. There is an expectation…of a certain experience. We want to make sure we preserve that. Over time, we’ll look at what we want to do….Over time, it may evolve. I don’t think it’s gonna evolve any time in the next few years. This is plenty for now.”

In a multi-media room full of architects, Kenney also showcased other key elements of the project: a hotel with its own subtle signage tastefully designed to create “harmony” with Wrigley; an office building with a town-center-style clock tower; an outdoor plaza with ad-bearing vertical “stylons” and an ornamental bridge connecting the hotel and office building, which includes a new “Kids Zone.”

The $300 million stadium renovation will be completed over a five-year period to eliminate the need for the Cubs to play elsewhere.

It will restore Wrigley’s 1930s terracotta roof line and replace concrete slabs and chain-link fences with brick and ornamental iron.

Year One will focus on removing 3,500 seats to make room for 25,000 square feet of clubhouses, batting tunnels, video rooms and other player amenities. That’s double the current space.

Succeeding years will add: 40 percent more restrooms overall and 65 percent more in the upper deck; 50 percent more concession “points of sale,” including an “outdoor concourse level” ringing the upper deck, eliminating the need for carts and grill stands that clog concourses; a new “Home Plate Club” for fine dining by those holding the most expensive seats and an overhaul of Wrigley’s 60 luxury suites to make them 45 percent larger.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has embraced the broad-strokes “framework” he forged with the Cubs after months of painstaking negotiations. But he has left it to the Cubs to sell the finer points to local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and his constituents.

Tuesday was clearly Step One. But Tunney said it’ll take a lot more than a glitzy video presentation to convince him to sign off on the Cubs plan in toto.

“I need to see the detail. Exactly the size, what the dimensions, how much signage, where are the sight lines as far as landmark is concerned. I mean—a photo does not tell the story,” he said.

As for Kenney’s claim that there’s no room to maneuver, Tunney said, “Every applicant says that, [but] there has to be” compromise.

A Wrigleyville community leader has demanded that the Cubs scale back their request for more night games and signage, nix plans to enlarge the stadium’s footprint and reduce the height of the hotel.

But Kenney said the Major League average is 54 night games and the Cubs already “compromised” by accepting 40. That’s in addition to as many as 11 more night games when required by playoff games or a national television contract, four concerts and six, 3:05 p.m. starts on Friday afternoons.

Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for rooftop club owners, said the Cubs’ have yet to share the plans showcased Tuesday with their “contractual partners.”

Only then can rooftop attorneys “compare it to their federally mediated contract, which contains a provision providing that the Cubs will not erect barriers to obstruct the views of the rooftops.”

McLaughlin noted that a “simpler solution” remains “viable”: the rooftops’ offer to generate $17.9 million a year to bankroll the stadium renovation by putting seven digital signs on top of their buildings instead of inside the ballpark blocking their views.

“Rooftop owners will actively participate in the upcoming community development process because they too want to see a modernized Wrigley Field, but common ground needs to be found where all partners agree to an equitable solution that honors the in-force contract which doesn’t expire until 2024,” McLaughlin said in a statement.

Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, was at the Wednesday’s City Club event and told reporters said she had just seen the drawings — and hasn’t made up her

mind about their possible impact.

“There is a lot of vetting we need to do,” she said.

“I want to work with the Cubs,” she said. “I’d like to see us figure something out.”

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