Cubs will foot bill for Wrigley renovations if city lifts restrictions
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com January 19, 2013 9:15PM
Updated: February 21, 2013 6:58AM
Cubs owners dropped a $300 million bombshell Saturday at the Cubs Convention when they vowed to stop asking for public money and pay for massive renovations at Wrigley Field themselves.
On these conditions: The city lift restrictions on game-day use of Sheffield Avenue, game times for certain days and large-scale signage behind the outfield.
That might be easier said than done given the power of the Wrigleyville rooftop lobby and stiff approval process for changes in and around the ballpark.
But the shift away from an attempted money grab from a financially strapped city has given Cubs officials renewed optimism that they might get cooperation from City Hall in time to start work on the five-year project this fall.
That requires getting permit and zoning approval for some of those projects this spring, explaining the full-court press the team applied Saturday.
‘‘One of the ways we look at it is treat us as a private institution,’’ chairman Tom Ricketts said. ‘‘Let us go about doing our business, and then we’ll take care of ourselves.
‘‘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.’’
That’s a significant difference from the team’s Nov. 16, 2010, news conference in which it launched a campaign seeking $150 million in redirected tax revenues.
Ricketts twice sidestepped questions Saturday asking if that plan — which sought money specifically diverted from game-ticket taxes — is off the table. But after losing a full construction season when that effort was waylaid in May, it’s clear the Cubs seek a solution more tolerable to city leaders.
The Cubs believe they were within days of getting approval for the $150 million last May. But revelations that family patriarch Joe Ricketts was linked to a potential smear campaign against president Barack Obama resulted in the plans’ demise at the hands of Obama’s former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Ricketts said he still hasn’t talked to Emanuel since then, but he said team officials have continued to work with City Hall.
‘‘They’ve been very positive conversations,’’ Cubs business operations president Crane Kenney said. ‘‘It’s just a matter of [Emanuel] wants to protect the taxpayer. We understand that. This cannot have a negative impact on taxpayers, and it has to create substantial jobs. Everything we’ve talked about does both of those.’’
A lengthy presentation to fans of renovation plans Saturday included an estimate of 2,100 jobs created.
Conspicuously absent from the presentation were advertising signs and at least one large video board that the team has in mind.
Kenney said surveys by the club suggest longtime negative sentiment from fans regarding a Jumbotron has softened in recent years, as long as it’s more about replays and player information than kiss cams and dot races.
‘‘The key question to them is where, how big and the programming,’’ he said. ‘‘They’ve said loud and clear they don’t want the video boards they see in most ballparks.’’
Kenney said often-cited restrictions involving Wrigley Field’s landmark status are not at issue. The Cubs have no desire to alter the scoreboard, marquee or ivy.
‘‘I think we’d like to have some freedom in the way we run the ballpark from top to bottom, no different than the other 29 clubs,’’ Kenney said. ‘‘I don’t think anybody’s asking for anything extraordinary here.’’
Ricketts told fans the Cubs are the second-highest taxed team in the majors. The Cubs also have said they’re the only team that owns and maintains its stadium while being subject to local ticket taxes.
As Ricketts told fans: ‘‘We’re not a museum; we’re a business.’’
‘‘It’s really simple,’’ Kenney said. ‘‘If we’re going to be a private enterprise and be expected to pay for all our renovations, then we should be treated like one. If we’re a public enterprise that’s going to be restricted like a public asset when it comes time for renovations, then we’d like to be supported. And we’re happy to do either one.’’
‘‘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.’’