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Editorial: Cubs come before rooftops

Updated: February 28, 2013 6:48AM

If the Cubs and the owners of 16 rooftop clubs can work out an agreement that lets the Cubs move ahead with a $300 million renovation of the ballpark, great.

That’s what Mayor Rahm Emanuel reportedly is hoping for, and who wouldn’t? Jobs, money and neighborhood charm are on the line. Sources told the Sun-Times last week that Emanuel is trying to broker an agreement that gives the Cubs what they need while keeping the rooftop operators in business.

But if a middle ground can’t be found, the clubs can’t expect to dictate what happens at Wrigley. The only reason they exist is they sit across the street from the golden goose, Wrigley Field.

On Friday, the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association rolled out a compromise it says benefits both sides. The plan would let the Cubs build traditional and LED billboards on the rooftops instead of inside the park, where they would block the clubs’ sightlines. The association estimates the rooftop signs would rake in $10 million to $20 million annually, all of which would go to the Cubs, except for a portion set aside for extra police and other services to ease the impact of Cubs games on the community.

The clubs do have some leverage. They and the Cubs signed a 2004 contract that runs through 2023. A 2004 landmark ordinance protects Wrigley’s open-air character and uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers. Relying on the contract and the ordinance, the clubs spent an estimated $50 million to upgrade their facilities.

But on Friday the Cubs sounded skeptical. A spokesman said the team would get more money from billboards inside the park atop the bleachers. And the more restrictions they face, the less likely they’ll pull in the revenue they need to go ahead with the renovation.

The Cubs have agreed not to pursue taxpayer money to upgrade Wrigley. All they ask in return, which is fair, is that they be given enough room to finance the job themselves.

A deal that spares the rooftop clubs would be nice. But it has to work for the Cubs.

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