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Mayor has ‘Fenway Plan’ for Wrigley to maximize potential

Rooftops fans watch game Wrigley Field April 2012.  |  Sun-Times Media

Rooftops fans watch a game at Wrigley Field in April 2012. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 17, 2012 8:08AM

More outfield signage behind the Wrigley Field bleachers, possibly including a Jumbotron in right field. Street closings on Sheffield and Waveland every game day to make way for money-making street fairs.

Sponsored “gateway” archways that welcome people to “Wrigleyville: Home of the Cubs” from various directions. More concerts and football games at Wrigley along with a stadium club, restaurant and several thousand premium-priced seats.

Determined to renovate 98-year-old Wrigley without overburdening taxpayers, sources said Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing a plan to relax the ballpark’s landmark status and allow the Cubs to wring as much as $150 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues out of the stadium and surrounding streets.

The mayor privately calls it his “Fenway” plan — and why not? Century-old Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, remains the model of how to turn an iconic old ballpark landlocked by a city neighborhood into a festive money-maker.

Now that Emanuel is Chicago’s mayor and former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein is president of baseball operations for the Cubs, City Hall believes it’s time to replicate the Fenway model at Wrigley.

“The more that is generated out of improvements to the building and the activities immediately around it, the less money is needed from the public sector,” said Chicago-based sports marketing expert Marc Ganis, who is familiar with the plan.

“The Cubs have been operating at a real disadvantage. They have not been able to even approach maximizing revenue from advertising and signage in the building. They are tens of millions of dollars below where they should be if they could operate the way the White Sox do.”

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley, said the “wish list” of ways to wring more revenue out of Wrigley was just “part of the negotiating process.” He didn’t rule anything out.

“My job is to be very respectful of the taxpayers and the overall quality of life for our residents here. Those are the people who put me in office,” the alderman said. “We’re continuing to talk. Nothing definitive has been reached.”

Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott, who has spearheaded the Wrigley talks for Emanuel, could not be reached for comment.

The laundry list of ideas being kicked around by the Cubs and City Hall does not currently include more night games beyond the current 30 but could at some point to generate even more revenue, sources said.

Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, noted that Tunney has been included in recent briefings on the plan.

“We respect the aldermen and want to work with him,” he said.

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 hosted campaign fundraisers for Tunney and share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs.

Tunney worked closely with the Cubs on a 2006 bleacher expansion and on the yet-to-be delivered plan to develop a triangular parcel next to Wrigley.

But, he drew the line on the illuminated Toyota sign in left field that obscured the view of a Horeshoe 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’ relatively modest plan to close down a block-long stretch of Sheffield for nine days to make way for a family-friendly, interactive street fair during sold-out series against the Yankees, Cardinals and White Sox.

The question now is whether Emanuel will allow opposition from a local alderman to stand in the way of changes that together could generate as much as $150 million — in addition to the $200 million the Ricketts family had been prepared to spend.

Ganis argued that the rooftop roadblock should be removed.

“The 17 percent [share] the Cubs get of the money they declare is almost meaningless compared to what the Cubs could have generated on their own. But, the rooftops have somehow been given protected-species status that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet,” he said.

Two days before the Cubs’ home opener, Emanuel said he was in the “final stages” of negotiating a Wrigley deal.

He also telegraphed his plan to help the team squeeze more revenue out of Wrigley — by demanding that the Cubs invest their own money in the stadium instead of pumping $200 million into construction of the triangle building.

Sources said the final deal is still likely to include a variation of the financing scheme that Emanuel once called a “non-starter” — forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth.

But, the city would get a minimum annual guarantee that would rise every year — an attractive proposition after amusement tax revenues plunged along with Cubs attendance in 2011. If amusement tax growth exceeds the amount needed to retire stadium bonds, the city would get a share of that money.

“Rahm is negotiating a great deal for the city. It would be unprecedented for government to get a piece of advertising and sponsorship revenues and a minimum guarantee of amusement taxes and overage. The city will make more money if the Cubs are more successful,” Ganis said.

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