Cubs: We’ll put up see-through sign if rooftops won’t agree not to sue
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 1, 2013 4:50PM
FILE -This file photo shows an artist rendering provided May 1, 2013 by the Chicago Cubs showing planned renovations at Wrigley Field. The Cubs said that have reached an agreement with the city that would allow the team to build a Jumbotron in left field at the team's historic ballpark while adding another sign in right field. The agreement over the changes to Wrigley Field must be approved by Chicago's landmarks commission, which is meeting Thursday, July 11, 2013. A team spokesman said the Jumbotron is slightly smaller than what the Cubs initially wanted and the right field sign is significantly smaller. (AP Photo/Courtesy the Chicago Cubs, File) ORG XMIT: CX101
Updated: September 3, 2013 7:47AM
The Cubs threatened Thursday to take immediate advantage of the authority the City Council gave them to put up a 650-square foot see-through sign in right-field at Wrigley Field if rooftop club owners won’t agree not to sue to block the stadium renovation project.
Cubs spokesman Julian Green issued the thinly veiled threat after the Commission on Chicago Landmarks authorized a Class L property tax break for the 99-year-old stadium that could save the team $8 million over 12 years.
Team attorneys claim Wrigley is now valued at $19.2 million and $32 million, including the land beneath the stadium.
“We will not start renovations to the ballpark until we resolve the remaining issues with the rooftops. However, that does not preclude us from putting up signs in the outfield,” Green said. “The video board [in left-field] will obviously take some time [because of the need to develop video programming]. But, the right field sign — that one we could move forward with pretty quickly.”
So, that’s the hammer hanging over the heads of rooftop club owners, whose 17 percent revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs has 10 more years to run?
“It’s not about leverage. It’s about generating revenue as soon as possible. Putting up that sign in right-field would give us the ability to generate revenue now,” Green said.
Cubs Vice President Mike Lufrano added, “The Jumbotron does require moving the walls back. The right-field sign you could conceivably put inside the ballpark without moving the wall back. . . . We hope [for] a global solution that everybody is happy with. But if there were a time when we realized it wasn’t going to happen, approval for those signs has been granted and you could put up some of those signs.”
Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for rooftop club owners, said: “There are ongoing conversations taking place with our contractual partners. We believe a solution exists that does not block our views.”
Earlier this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Wrigleyville community leaders opened the door to resolving the dispute between the Cubs and the rooftops by allowing a deck that would hover over and darken Sheffield Avenue.
Sources said a rooftop club owner first suggested the Sheffield deck — and the right-field sign behind it — but it was confined to just a couple of buildings. That would require the right-field wall to be extended outward at least twice as much as previously planned — taking out a lane of traffic, instead of just a sidewalk.
The Cubs countered with a much larger deck that would extend for most of the block but only if the rooftops agreed not to sue to block the outfield signs that would largely bankroll the $500 million project.
The Class L property tax break, which still must be approved by the City Council, would allow Wrigley to be taxed at a rate of 10 percent of assessed valuation for the first 10 years, at 15 percent for the 11th year and at 20 percent for the 12th.
Wrigley’s annual property tax bill now stands at $1.49 million. The stadium is taxed at a rate of 25 percent of assessed valuation.
The Cubs would get the break, only after the five-year renovation project is completed in 2019. At that time, the building will be reassessed. Former Cook County Assessor Tom Tully, an attorney representing the Cubs, said even with the break, he’s certain the new tax bill will be “considerably greater” than what it is today.
If the renovation costs $300 million, some might expect the value of the stadium rise to rise by the same amount. But Tully said that’s not how it works.
“The dollars that are being put into the structure today are for life-safety. They’re for plumbing. They’re for all the kinds of amenities that are needed so the structure itself would not fall down,” Tully said.
The county ordinance says the Class L designation should only be granted “if needed” for the substantial rehabilitation of a designated landmark.
But Green rejected the notion that the billionaire Ricketts family who owns the Cubs could afford to bankroll the renovation without the tax break.
“This is a 100-year-old ballpark that has netting that’s catching [falling] concrete that we need to save to make sure that it’s around for the next 100 years,” Green said.
“Any available program…that we can take advantage of to put back into the stadium, we believe, is an appropriate use.”