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Wrigley deal ‘fell apart’ at stormy session with Cubs, rooftop owners

The view from one rooftops along right field when crews put up test sign Wrigley Field. | Provided photo

The view from one of the rooftops along right field when crews put up a test sign at Wrigley Field. | Provided photo

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Updated: February 24, 2014 1:10PM

The dispute between the Cubs and rooftop club owners standing in the way of the $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field will be resolved in the courts — not at the bargaining table — potentially delaying for years a project already decades in the making.

That became apparent Wednesday when negotiations collapsed and the Cubs privately declared their intention to apply for a city permit to put up a 650-square-foot, see-through sign in right field that, rooftop club owners claim, will block their bird’s-eye view of the century-old stadium.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, said Wednesday the two sides were “very close to a deal” that would have shifted the right-field sign to the top of one of the rooftop buildings.

That’s a solution the rooftops club owners proposed a year ago and the Cubs had ruled out on grounds that it would diminish advertising revenue because the sign would not be visible from television cameras positioned behind home plate.

On Tuesday, yet another negotiating session was held and talks “fell apart,” sources said.

“When I got into this, I was told right field was the problem. We solved the right field. Only in the last three or four days did the left-field [rooftop] owners come in and say, ‘We’re not done yet,’ ” said O’Connor, who has brokered the talks at the request of the mayor.

“They said the way in which the sign lined up on the left field wall diminished their view to the point where they didn’t feel they could live with it. They would have been happy to have the sign reduced or have the sign moved across the street. They would have been happy to do anything to make the sign less impactful. The Cubs were looking at ways to reduce the potential monetary loss but not necessarily do things to the sign.”

Years of bad blood between the Cubs and rooftop club owners who share 17 percent of their revenues with the team also were resurrected by two recent developments: disparaging remarks about the rooftops owners made by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts at last weekend’s Cubs convention; and club owners’ decision to file a defamation lawsuit against a stadium financing consultant who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co.

In the suit, the rooftop club owners accused Marc Ganis of making false and defamatory statements about them, in violation of their revenue-sharing agreement, in a January 2013 story published by the Chicago Sun-Times.

In the story, Ganis accused local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) “of protecting the rooftop owners and a couple of bar owners.”

He called the rooftop roadblock “one of the most ludicrous situations in the history of sports facility development. . . . Protecting carpetbaggers stealing the product paid for by others for their own profit and, thereby, stopping a $300 million investment.”

The Cubs were named in the lawsuit, only as “respondents in discovery.” But team officials viewed it as a shot across the bow that signaled the club owners’ intention to take further legal action to block two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project.

O’Connor bemoaned the “unfortunate timing” of the lawsuit.

“They had a statute running, and if they didn’t file it, they would have lost the ability to file it. They really would have preferred to have an agreement. But when it wasn’t there and looked like it couldn’t be, they thought, ‘Let’s not lose this right for redress for statements that were made,’ ” the alderman said.

Ricketts has said repeatedly he won’t begin construction of his $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it until rooftop club owners agree not to sue to block the two outfield signs.

On Wednesday, Cubs spokesman Julian Green issued a statement that left little doubt the matter would be resolved in court.

“We have worked hard to reach a resolution with our rooftop partners which would have helped preserve their views, including reducing the number, size and location of signs. Unfortunately, they opted [Tuesday] to reject the proposal and file this [defamation] lawsuit,” Green said.

“Since our approvals last year, we have been anxious to get the Wrigley Field renovation started. Yesterday’s action will certainly force additional delays to our project.”

Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, responded to the latest blow-up by reiterating the association’s support for renovating Wrigley.

The emailed statement called it a “red herring” for the Cubs to “blame rooftop owners for the lack of progress in renovating Wrigley Field” and said it’s high time the billionaire Ricketts family “put shovels into the ground” to start construction.

“We will, however, vehemently protect our views outlined in the contract and we are united along Sheffield and Waveland more than ever,” McLaughlin said.

“These most recent proposals that result in significant blockage are non-starters, but we remain committed to finding a reasonable solution nonetheless.”

Tunney said Wednesday he has not given up hope of avoiding a marathon legal battle that could drag on for years.

“I don’t know where the private negotiations are going between the Cubs and the rooftops [club owners]. But I’m optimistic that the renovation will begin and we’ll get the jobs, the economic development and the tourism. It’s very important that we get this deal done and respect the fact that there is a private agreement that government was not part of,” Tunney said.

But the alderman also acknowledged that the City Council has “given the rights to the Cubs to install the video board and the right-field sign after much negotiation.”

Although negotiations appear to have reached an impasse, Tunney said, “I encourage them to keep talking. We’ve been around this before. There’s been 30 years of negotiating. I’ve been involved with it. I don’t take any given day’s event one way or another. There’s still a solution in sight and I’m optimistic.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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