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Editorial: Give Cubs plenty of room to fix Wrigley

Wrigley Field. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Library

Wrigley Field. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Library

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Updated: February 24, 2013 6:21AM

The owners of the Chicago Cubs are pitching a new plan to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley Field, a plan composed of plausible solutions that wouldn’t hit up the taxpayers for a dime.

Here’s hoping that City Hall and landmark preservationists give the Cubs plenty of room to make the plan work. It hardly would be fair to deny the Cubs a tax subsidy to restore a jewel like Wrigley but then tie their hands to do the job on their own.

The Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, is asking that the city lift restrictions on outfield signs, allow more night games and open Sheffield Avenue for street fairs on games days. Do that, the Rickettses say, and the Cubs will be able to generate the $300 million necessary to fix up Wrigley. There will be no need for a $150 million taxpayer handout.

The Cubs’ latest plan would require serious negotiations with neighborhood groups, landmark preservationists and the owners of rooftop clubs, which fear losing their bird’s-eye views. But nothing in the plan looks like a deal-breaker.

On the contrary, Sheffield street fairs could bring new energy and revenue to Wrigleyville, assuming parking problems and the like were worked out.

More than the current 30 night games — the exact extra number being open to discussion — seems inevitable. Major League Baseball in every other city is essentially a sport played at night, leaving the Cubs at a scheduling and marketing disadvantage. Fortunately, the Cubs under successive owners have done a decent job of working with neighborhood groups to strike livable compromises.

And while every new advertising sign the Rickettses propose for Wrigley would have to run the gauntlet of the city’s Commission on City Landmarks, and properly so, we would favor easing restrictions. Everybody knows the charm of Wrigley Field is at the heart of the Cubs’ financial success. It sure isn’t all those winning seasons. The Rickettses aren’t stupid — they’re not about to kill the golden goose. The biggest blowback to the Cubs’ latest plan is coming from owners of the rooftop clubs, which have a long-term contract with the Cubs to unblocked views. Every new sign, to their thinking, means just another obstructed view.

We understand the charm and economic impact of the rooftop clubs. (Although those rooftops were a lot more charming in the old days when neighborhood folks in lawn chairs sat up there.) We also understand the Cubs must honor their legal obligations. But, as a general rule, the interests of the Cubs would seem to come first.

The rooftop clubs are piggybacking, regardless of the strong support from their local alderman, Tom Tunney. If the Cubs want to shrug them off for a better deal, so be it.

For the last five years, we were among the most vocal opponents of any plan to give the Cubs $150 million in local tax revenue, regardless of the specific source. We never understood why all that money should go to a phenomenally successful private business instead of to salaries for teachers and police officers.

But, as we’ve said before, there is an equally important flipside to this argument:

If the fortunes of the Cubs are to be left to the Cubs, then local government also should do everything within reason not to get in their way.

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