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Editorial: Taxpayers win in Wrigley Field deal

Overview Wrigley Field during Chicago Cubs 10-7 10 inning loss San Francisco Giants Sunday April 14 2013 Wrigley Field. |

Overview of Wrigley Field during the Chicago Cubs 10-7 10 inning loss to the San Francisco Giants Sunday April 14, 2013 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:20AM

It was too long in the making, but the Cubs and Chicago finally have a deal to renovate Wrigley Field and its surrounding neighborhood.

And it looks like a good one.

Much credit goes to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who brokered an agreement that includes no taxpayer subsidy — as we have argued against for years — and gives the Cubs the considerable freedom they need to manage Wrigley like a business, not a holy relic.

Emanuel even seems to have convinced the local alderman, Tom Tunney, to put the interests of the Cubs, the economic heart of the 44th Ward, ahead of those of the rooftop clubs, though the clubs are among Tunney’s most reliable campaign contributors.

Big questions remain unanswered, such as whether the provisions for handling extra traffic in the neighborhood are sufficient and how much the Cubs will have to pay the city for further encroaching on Waveland and Sheffield avenues. Get ready for energetic public hearings held by the City Council, the Plan Commission and the Landmarks Commission.

But nothing here looks problematic enough to derail a $500,000 deal that could keep the Cubs in charm-drenched Wrigley Field for decades to come, create some 2,000 jobs and bring in $20 million a year in new tax revenue.

Best of all for the Cubs and their fans, the deal announced Sunday would bring the team into the modern era of sports marketing and advertising. The Cubs finally would get that lucrative 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron they’ve wanted for left field and a smaller see-through sign in right. They also would get 40 night games, 10 up from the current 30, and maybe even a few more as necessary for national TV and the playoffs.

Add to that a new open-air plaza, street fairs on weekend game days and a 175-room hotel across Clark Street, linked to the ballpark by a pedestrian bridge.

If this deal goes through, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said Monday, “we will win the World Series.”

Could he put that in the contract?

For five years, this editorial page argued against various proposals to renovate Wrigley Field using taxpayers’ money. So we’re pleased that Sunday’s deal doesn’t even hint at hitting up the taxpayer — and we’ll keep an eye on that. At the same time, though, we argued that the Ricketts family should be allowed great leeway in how they renovate the old ballpark, even given its landmark status. Sunday’s deal comes through on that, too.

If there is an odd man out here, it is the rooftop club owners. Sunday’s agreement goes out of its way to preserve the clubs’ bird’s-eye views of Wrigley Field, even to the point of moving back the ballpark’s walls to preserve sightlines when the signs go up, but it may not be not enough to keep the clubs from suing. They do have a contract.

Frankly, we’ve never been able to work up much sympathy for the plight of the rooftop clubs, which piggyback on the Cubs’ product.

If the rooftop clubs hope to have any chance of extending their revenue-sharing contract with the Cubs, which expires in 2023, they might be smart to find a way to play ball with the team now.

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