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Analysis: Cubs turn up heat to get deal done, risk getting burned

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Updated: April 22, 2013 12:07PM



The Cubs have been turning up the heat to get a deal done by opening day to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley Field, but they had better be careful. They just might get burned.

The pressure tactics started two weeks ago, when Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts sweetened the pot — with a health club in the hotel he plans to build across the street from Wrigley — to prod Mayor Rahm Emanuel into siding with the Cubs over local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and rooftop club owners in the signage dispute that stands as the biggest roadblock.

“My family is prepared to invest $500 million. . . . All of this can happen if we can reach a common-sense solution that allows us to run our business,” Ricketts said in a not-so-subtle news release.

Emanuel is used to being the one applying political pressure. He doesn’t like being squeezed himself. He promptly summoned both sides to City Hall.

But that didn’t stop Act II, starring Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens.

Stephens offered Ricketts 25 acres in the shadow of O’Hare Airport to build a Wrigley replica. DuPage County officials said they, too, were interested in luring the Cubs with no costly restrictions on night games, signage and game day street fairs that Ricketts says he needs in Chicago to renovate Wrigley without a public subsidy.

The coup de gras came this week, in what Emanuel advisers consider a Cubs’ ploy to smear Tunney by disclosing the alderman’s “dismissed” proposal to move Wrigley’s iconic centerfield scoreboard to make way for a video scoreboard that would generate millions without blocking anybody’s view.

Mayoral pal David Axelrod added fuel to the anti-Tunney fire by tweeting from spring training that, “No team should be held hostage the way the Cubs have to rooftop owners and the ward pols they own.” Never mind that Axelrod’s old firm has worked for the Cubs.

The Cubs’ campaign left mayoral confidants fuming.

The sources noted that “incredible progress” was being made before the previously timid Ricketts started playing hardball.

A deal — if it can still be salvaged — is certain to include “some signage” inside the ballpark and “some blockage” of rooftop clubs even after attempts to “minimize” the number of obstructions, sources said.

Emanuel is also prepared to lift the 30-game-per-season ceiling on the number of night games to 44 or 45 games, with some of the dates reserved for concerts. Six-to-10 3:05 p.m. starts could also be part of the mix.

But none of that will happen before fence-mending.

“They just accused the alderman of desecrating Wrigley Field, and Axelrod is out there saying Tunney is in the rooftops’ pocket. Every time we make progress, the Cubs do something stupid to set us back,” said a mayoral confidant, who asked to remain anonymous.

“There has been progress. There have been concessions made. But the constant one-upsmanship in the media only undermines the trust that’s been built over the period of months. Now, we have to try to rebuild that trust. We have to reclaim territory we’ve already covered.”

Tunney has been under fire for fronting for rooftop club owners who are among his most reliable campaign contributors.

But the mayoral confidante said the Cubs are more responsible for impeding progress because they “keep moving the ball, changing what they want” and refusing to share information.

“The Cubs say they just want to run their business. But when you’re talking about a $500 million project in a marquee location in the middle of a neighborhood, nobody is gonna get 100 percent of what they want,” the mayoral confidant said.

Ricketts’ spokesman Dennis Culloton flatly denied that the Cubs were orchestrating a campaign to pressure Emanuel into taking sides.

“We are just trying to get a deal done with the city of Chicago. That’s been the Ricketts family’s goal since Day One. Any offers from other communities have been unsolicited,” Culloton said.



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