Cubs give up persuading city in diverting tax revenues for Wrigley renovations
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com January 19, 2013 12:20PM
Updated: January 19, 2013 6:10PM
The Cubs have given up efforts to persuade the city to divert tax revenues to help fund Wrigley Field renovations – for now, at least – and have shifted their efforts toward getting restrictions at the ballpark eased to allow more sponsorship revenue, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said Saturday.
“Right now we’re looking at other alternatives,” said Ricketts after a morning ownership-family session with fans at Cubs Convention. “We’re not looking at amusement taxes. We’re just trying to think of other things that might help us finance the renovations and move forward.
“One of the ways we look at it is: treat us as a private institution. Let us go about doing our business and then we’ll take care of ourselves.’’
Ricketts twice didn’t directly answer questions asking if the long-sought desire for tax money was off the table.
But after losing a full construction season when that effort was waylaid in May, it’s clear the Cubs seek a plan more tolerable to the leaders of a financially strapped city.
The Cubs believe they were within days last May of getting approval for $150 million in public funding through a diversion of amusement taxes paid on game tickets. But revelations that Ricketts patriarch Joe Ricketts was linked to a potential Super PAC campaign to smear Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pal President Barack Obama meant a quick demise of that plan at the hands of the riled mayor.
Ricketts said Saturday he still has not talked personally to Emanuel but said team officials have continued to work with City Hall on a plan.
Specifically, the Cubs seek easing some restrictions related to Wrigley’s landmark status, but Ricketts said the limitations they want lifted go beyond that – and include being able to use an already shut-down Sheffield Avenue for activities on game days, similar to what the Boston Red Sox do on Yawkey Way alongside Fenway Park.
“We think it’s a good idea, that it really adds to the fan experience,’’ Ricketts said. “We’ve been to Yawkey Way and we think we could do something comparable. That street’s already closed. Why can’t we just put something on it that’s nice for families or for fans coming to games?
“We’d just like to have more freedom to operate in general.’’
Ricketts seemed optimistic that approval could come soon, and the team scheduled a specific session during Saturday’s Cubs Convention events to unveil renderings of the renovation plans.
“I hope [it’s close],’’ he said. “I think everyone has incentive. We lost a year this year. We want to get the project rolling. It’s a big economic development for the city. It’s a lot of jobs. It’s something that everybody should have an incentive to want to get done.
“The fact is that if you look at all the limitations that we have, whether that’s signage in the outfield that we’re not allowed to do or whether that’s what kind of stuff we do in the park or around the park, I think that we’d just like a little more flexibility to have some more options on that stuff.
“We have an opportunity cost there that’s tremendous. Just give us some relief on some of these restrictions and then we’ll take care of Wrigley Field.’’
Of course, none of the restrictions are new since the Rickettses bought the team in 2009.
“When we bought the team, we kind of understood some of the restrictions,’’ Ricketts said. “What I didn’t understand was that we’re the only team in baseball to have these restrictions.’’