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Cubs slowly starting to realize that rooftop owners refuse to go away quietly

Updated: February 25, 2014 6:41AM



How did this rooftop mess come about?

Think of a line from The Sun Also Rises:

“How did you go bankrupt?’’ Bill asked.

“Two ways,’’ Mike replied. “Gradually, then suddenly.’’

Yep.

The gradually part for the Cubs began decades ago. Neighbors climbed onto their rooftops and watched games at Wrigley Field from their perches nearly 500 feet from home plate. Lousy view but casual, no big deal.

Nobody paid anything.

I have a photo of myself on a rooftop on Sheffield Avenue with three other people from June 1987, me standing on the flat surface, shading my eyes to view the distant action, no bleachers, no nothing except a cement block for perching on and a couple of lawn chairs, plus sunscreen.

Then the Cubs improved, capitalism set in and building owners began tricking-out their rooftops — with bleachers, party rooms, food, beer, TVs — and charging fees.

Watching a game from a rooftop became cool. A venture once considered to have little value escalated.

The suddenly?

That happened Wednesday, when a meeting between Cubs officials and rooftop owners over the new signs and scoreboard the Cubs have proposed went wacko. The rooftop owners even filed a defamation suit against Marc Ganis, a stadium consultant for the former owners, Tribune Co., saying he shouldn’t have called the rooftop folks “carpetbaggers’’ a year ago and the impasse ‘‘one of the most ludicrous situations in the history of sports facility development.’’

Funny, but all that is true.

And yet, there’s something odd going on here, something Tom Ricketts and Cubs management only now are beginning to comprehend.

There’s a 20-year contract between the Cubs and the rooftop owners, giving the Cubs 17 percent of the owners’ revenue, lasting until 2023. It’s a contract the Cubs — see Crane Kenney — agreed to and signed.

It might be the craziest contract ever.

But it’s real.

And the rooftop owners know this.

The Cubs seem to only recently have figured this out.

Nothing is going to be accomplished at Wrigley until the rooftop owners agree to it, until they’re satisfied with the altered views, etc.

The Cubs have a problem. Moving to a new ballpark is ludicrous. Eminent domain — taking over the buildings on Waveland and Sheffield for the public good — will never happen.

So we have lawsuits and anger and possibly years of delays ahead. Maybe stuff will never happen at Wrigley.

“They agreed to it,’’ George Loukas said of the contract.

Who is George Loukas? He’s a real-estate man who owns the Cubby Bear at the corner of Clark and Addison, plus buildings at 1032 W. Waveland, 3643 N. Sheffield and 3609 N. Sheffield — all with rooftops. His kids do the managing these days, but George is never far away.

Loukas is not the kind of guy who caves in. He played football at Southern Illinois, and one of his daughters, Christina, was a national diving champ and finished eighth at the London Olympics. His older brother, Angelo, played football for Northwestern, the Bills and the Patriots. His other brother, Tony, played football at Wisconsin. Angelo’s son, Alexander, was an All-State quarterback at Deerfield and played at Stanford. Tony’s son, Dino, was a champion pro-rodeo rider.

The Loukas family is tight. Sports and business bind them. They all love the Cubs. But, like the other rooftop owners, they refuse to be taken advantage of.

‘‘The Cubs have been very secretive on everything they want to do,’’ said Loukas, adding that the last four years have been hard for rooftop owners because the Cubs stink and nobody wants to watch them from far away. Or up close, for that matter.

‘‘We’re struggling to pay our bills,’’ Loukas said, pointing out that rooftop owners had to spend millions to tear out all wood supports in their buildings and put in steel and concrete before they could do business.

It’s such a weird situation. Loukas acknowledges as much.

‘‘The Cubs could have bought the whole neighborhood back in the ’80s,’’ Loukas said, ‘‘but they wanted no part of it. In 1990, John McDonough, when he was the Cubs’ marketing head, came to us, went up on the roof, and I said, ‘I’ll be your broker and help you buy everything.’ Never heard back.’’

As for the Ganis lawsuit, it’s a crazy, maybe vengeful one. Before he left Wednesday for business in China, Ganis, who consults around the globe, emailed me, saying the suit is curious, but he’s cool with it, and it ‘‘can go wherever the evidence leads.’’

Which might be a whole new pot of yuck.

So there you have it.

Putting the proposed Jumbotron on the building rooftop at 3701 N. Kenmore might solve everything but probably not.

This is Cubness, staggering onward.



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