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Ricketts’ threat to move Cubs doesn’t worry Rahm

Updated: June 3, 2013 3:18PM

Cubs’ Chairman Tom Ricketts spoke so softly Wednesday when he uttered the dreaded “M” word, that some in the audience wondered if they’d heard him correctly.

“I’m not sure how anyone is going to stop any signs in the outfield,” said Ricketts as he made his first public sales pitch for a planned $300 million Wrigley Field renovation. “If it comes to the point that we don’t have the ability to do what we need to do in our outfield, then we’re going to have to consider moving.”

The threat to move — which Ricketts later insisted was no such thing — came during a speech before the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s Banquets. His remarks were in response to an audience question about the planned outfield signs, which have rooftop owners threatening a lawsuit to protect their uninterrupted views of the field.

The statement marked the first time Ricketts publicly suggested moving the team.

Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Ricketts, said the Cubs chairman did not go to the City Club breakfast with the intention of playing his ultimate trump card. He simply gave an honest answer to a question on the mind of just about every Cubs fan.

“Nothing he said was intended to be threatening. But he said what a lot of people are thinking. Signs are critical to funding this program. Without signs, we’re back to square one,” Culloton said.

“Anyone who’s watched these negotiations over the past several months has to know the family is committed to saving Wrigley Field and staying on the North Side. But we’ve got a process to get through and not everybody in the neighborhood may be on the same page. The alderman and the mayor are committed and those are two great allies. We just hope to get this deal done over the next few months.”

If Ricketts is serious about moving — and not just using his comments as political leverage — he has an offer on the table of free land to build a Wrigley replica in Rosemont. DuPage County also has expressed interest.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he does not believe there’s a serious threat the Cubs will leave Chicago and the baseball attraction that is 99-year-old Wrigley Field.

“There’s now certainty around what they needed: There will be a jumbotron in left field. There will be signage in right field. Things that they think are necessary. There will also be signage in the plaza. That’s why I wanted to do a framework and they wanted to do a framework so a lot of questions were answered prior to that,” Emanuel said.

“They also know from their own business sense how important Wrigley Field is to their business and how important Chicago is to their business. We worked out a number of those issues. So, this is about going forward into the planning process with big questions answered.”

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.

That process kicked off in earnest on Wednesday with the filing of a planned development laying out the Cubs’ detailed plans to renovate Wrigley and the land around it.

That will be followed by extensive hearings and votes by the Chicago Plan Commission, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the City Council.

The Cubs owners have insisted they have an absolute right to put up new signs — just unveiled — in an effort to generate revenue but Ricketts also denied the signs are a deal breaker in the plan to renovate Wrigley Field.

“I don’t talk in those terms,” Ricketts told reporters after his speech.

Ricketts said the Cubs are “sensitive” to the concerns of rooftop owners, and that his organization plans to meet with them in coming days.

“We’ve always said we want to win in Wrigley Field,” Ricketts said. “But we also need to generate that revenue that we need to continue to compete as a franchise, and having the ability to put video boards or signs in the outfield is very important to us.”

Ricketts said the Cubs are losing out on about $20 million annually in advertising revenue without the outfield signs.

“Every other ballpark in Major League Baseball has a video board that generates revenue for them,” Ricketts said. “Fenway Park has three video boards.”

Beth Murphy, who own’s Murphy’s Bleachers, heard the speech and said it’s too early to say what she thinks of the Cubs’ project.

“There’s a lot of vetting that we need to do,” Murphy said. “It’s kind of hard to tell from a rendering how it’s going to impact us and our neighborhood.”

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

The plan to renovate Wrigley, which also includes a planned plaza and a hotel outside the ballpark, is all about making the ballpark better for fans, players, the neighborhood and the city itself.

Ricketts said there are no immediate plans to raise tickets, and that the renovations are about enhancing the fan experience, not making it radically different.

“At Wrigley, we don’t want to fix what isn’t broken,” Ricketts said. “The view from the field, from your seat ... will largely be the same.”

The stadium renovation is expected to take five years.

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