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Emanuel: Amusement tax to fund Wrigley Field repairs a ‘non-starter’

Updated: March 29, 2011 1:45PM

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he wants to find a way to save 97-year-old Wrigley Field, but the taxpayer-financed plan being floated anew by Cubs’ chairman Tom Ricketts is a “non-starter.”

As Friday’s home opener approaches, Ricketts is trying again to convince the city to forfeit 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to finance a $210 million Wrigley renovation.

If amusement tax growth falls short, Ricketts wants to back-stop Wrigley bonds with the two percent hotel tax used to finance construction of Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field. Those bonds will be paid off in 2031.

After striking out with Mayor Daley and Gov. Quinn, Ricketts had hoped for a different outcome with Emanuel.

But during a post-election meeting with Ricketts, Emanuel said he reiterated the “healthy skepticism” he expressed during the campaign about using taxpayer dollars to renovate Wrigley.

In other words, it’s back to the drawing board for Ricketts.

“They know my position from the past. It was an informational meeting. It was a short meeting. … And I let them know that, if all we did was re-package old ideas, that was a non-starter,” he said.

As a former North Side congressman whose district included Wrigley, Emanuel said there’s no question he wants the Cubs to stay at the shrine of Major League Baseball.

He also acknowledged that there’s a lot of structural and modernization work that needs to be done to solidify the Cubs’ long-term future at Wrigley.

But the mayor-elect said it’s not his job to suggest financing alternatives to Ricketts.

“That’s their responsibility. They’ll come up with ideas There’s work that needs to be done. They know that, and they have to come up with a proposal that works both for them as well as for the public. Their job is as owners of the team. My job is representing the taxpayers, and I was clear about that,” he said.

Mike Lufrano, the team’s general counsel and executive vice president of community affairs, said the Cubs would “continue to work with the city, state and county to find a solution that will work for everyone.”

The new setback for a plan the Cubs once hoped to ram through the Illlinois General Assembly during last year’s fall veto session triggers a renewed search for financing alternatives.

The short list includes: modifying the amusement tax plan to give the city some growth; creating a tax-increment-financing district around Wrigley; using historic preservation tax credits or broadening the boundaries of a one percent tax on downtown restaurant meals used to finance McCormick Place. That tax currently extends as far north as Diversey.

Another, more controversial idea is the sale of personal seat licenses, similar to ones sold at Soldier Field that helped provide the Chicago Bears’ contribution to their taxpayer-supported stadium.

During a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago nearly one year ago to the day, Ricketts cracked the door open to selling seat licenses at Wrigley.

“I won’t rule them out, only because I don’t know what it’s gonna take to really save Wrigley. It may be a financing option that makes sense for us down the line,” Ricketts said at the time.

But he quickly added, “There’s no current thought on doing that — at least any time in the near future.”

With personal seat licenses, fans pony up thousands of dollars upfront for the right to buy season tickets.

Ricketts has argued that his amusement tax plan would have paved the way for the family to invest $210 million of their own money in a triangle building promised to Wrigleyville residents in exchange for a bleacher expansion.

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