Wrigley Renovation Deal Done, Sort Of

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts announced at a Monday morning press conference that an agreement had been reached on a framework to renovate Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family plans to spend $500 million in private funds to renovate and modernize the nearly 100-year-old ballpark, develop a new hotel across from Wrigley, and make myriad pedestrian, traffic, and other improvements to the Wrigleyville neighborhood.

The framework is the result of months of negotiations among the Cubs and the Ricketts family, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney, and Wrigleyville residents, and, according to Tom Ricketts, has the backing of Emmanuel and Tunney. Getting the support of the mayor and the local alderman was critical, as the plan must now proceed through Chicago’s Planned Development process, and be voted on by the Landmarks Commission and City Council.

The details are similar to those released by the Cubs in January, when the Ricketts family dropped their request for public funds and announced their intent to privately-finance the much-needed renovation. The hook for the Ricketts family’s half a billion dollar investment: changes to Chicago ordinances that restrict the quantity and type of advertising at Wrigley and the number of Cubs night games. In other words, if the City gives the Ricketts the leeway to operate Wrigley Field profitably, then the Ricketts will modernize the landmark ballpark and revitalize the neighborhood.

The features that will most directly affect baseball games at Wrigley include:

  • An increase in the limit on night games, from 30 to 40;
  • Six Friday afternoon games starting at 3:05 Central Time, with the rest starting at 1:05 Central Time, as they all do currently;
  • Beer sales until the end of the 7th inning or 10:30 p.m., whichever is earlier; and
  • New additions to the ballpark in left field and right field corners to provide more space for fans.

As I wrote in early March, there was considerable opposition to the renovation plan, largely from owners of the 17 rooftop clubs that surround Wrigley on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues.  From my March post:

In 2002, the Cubs sued the rooftop owners for copyright infringement. The Cubs argued the rooftop owners were violating the Cubs’ copyright in the game action by charging guests to watch the game. Two years later, the Cubs and the owners signed a 20-year agreement under which the owners pay the Cubs 17% of gross revenue in exchange for the Cubs’ official endorsement of the rooftops.  . . . [T]he rooftops’ collective gross revenue [is] between $17.6 million and $23.5 million each season. . . .

The rooftops owners claim any new signage would violate the 20-year agreement and Wrigley’s landmark status. Instead of new signage inside ballpark, the rooftop owners propose adding new LED billboards to the rooftop clubs themselves, with all of the advertising revenue going to the Cubs.

According to the framework revealed on Monday, the Cubs plan to install a 6,000 square foot video board in the left field area (where a large, neon Toyota sign now stands) and a 1,000 foot advertising sign in the right field area in the style of the existing Toyota sign. The video board will be used to show highlights, statistics and advertisements. The team hasn’t yet determined precisely where and how the video board and new advertising sign will be located but an effort will be made to minimize the impact on the rooftops. On all other signage within the ballpark, the Cubs will have full discretion on the number and location, as long as the new signage does not interfere with rooftop views.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the rooftop owners responded cautiously to Monday’s announcement:

The rooftop owners on Monday again rattled a legal saber, saying the “owners reserve the right to use any and all means necessary to enforce the remaining 11 years of our 20-year contract.”

The owners have said before that if signs the Cubs want to place at the rear of the stadium block their views it would violate both their revenue sharing contract with the Cubs and the city landmark ordinance for Wrigley, which protects the “uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers.”

At the same time, the group struck a somewhat conciliatory note, saying that rooftop owners understood the need for “the Cubs play baseball in a modernized Wrigley Field as soon as possible.” Ricketts had said earlier that the work could take five seasons to complete.

“The players and fans deserve the modern amenities that numerous other Major League Baseball teams have had for years and we are pleased that process will begin,” the group said in a statement. “The Wrigleyville Rooftops Association will play an active role in the community process to approve the planned development or any changes to the landmark ordinance.”

But Beth Murphy, one of the rooftop owners, sounded less than convinced in this video interview recorded shortly after the press conference:



However the rooftop owners proceed, it appears they’ve lost the support of the one person who could single-handedly tie up the renovation plan at City Hall — Alderman Tunney. From this vantage point, it’s difficult to pinpoint what may have led the Alderman to move from Cubs’ foe to Cubs’ friend. But it’s worth noting that the framework announced on Monday includes a million-dollar commitment to a new neighborhood park and playground; another $3.75 million donation by the Cubs for community infrastructure and amenities; and new traffic lights, at a cost in excess of $350,000.

And those aren’t the only new details. If you’re interested in a list of all items included in Monday’s framework, you can find them at Cubs blogs Bleacher Nation and Bleed Cubbie Blue.

Now the approval process begins. As with any plan of this size, cost, and importance, there will be interests lined up on all sides to speed the process, slow the process, and mold the plan to their liking. The City Council is expected to vote on the expanded night games and later Friday afternoon start times in May, and if approved, those changes could go into effect this season, if not for 2014. The Ricketts hope to begin construction as soon as the 2013 season ends, and to complete the renovations over a five-year period.

As for the Cubs on the field, the renovation process may take longer than five years. But Tom Ricketts is convinced this plan will give the team the financial flexibility it needs to bring winning baseball back to the North Side. Indeed, Ricketts all but guaranteed a Cubs World Series victory at Monday’s press conference.

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Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on ESPN.com, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

29 Responses to “Wrigley Renovation Deal Done, Sort Of”

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  1. gouis says:

    Booo instant play videos

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  2. maqman says:

    NIMBYs will have a field day with this kind of deal. Let the lawsuits begin.

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    • Sarge6 says:

      Yup. Pretty gobsmacking to buy an overpriced condo in Wrigleyville in 2008, and then just five years later, Wrigley Field sneaks into the neighborhood while you aren’t looking.

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  3. MikeS says:

    From this vantage point, it’s difficult to pinpoint what may have led the Alderman to move from Cubs’ foe to Cubs’ friend.

    Not familiar with Chicago politics, are you? It could have been a carrot or a stick but he didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart or for that playground you mentioned. He either got a “campaign donation” or the mayor twisted his arm. Maybe both.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      I think she’s trying to avoid making assumptions. As you illustrate, they’re easy to make. No evidence needed!

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      • SeaBass says:

        You don’t need evidence after living in the city for 20 years.

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        • CircleChange11 says:

          Illinois: Where the governor’s make the license plates.

          Yeah, you don;t need to live in Illinois long to realize how things work … and have always worked.

          Our governor put a Senate seat up for bid, and wasn’t too private about it.

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      • skmd says:

        anyone who has lived in Cook County for more than a year knows the ways of cook county politics – mike S and SeaBass ar absolutely correct.

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    • TKDC says:

      I think it’s cute that Chicago thinks their politics is so special. It looks like they got the team to foot the whole bill and tons of add-ons as well. Seems like whatever they did, they did a good job.

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      • EKG says:

        The team always wanted to “foot the whole bill” as long as the city got out of it’s way. They were originally asking for public dollars because every other team in this town has a publically financed field not to mention the number of other city/neighborhood restrictions that prevent the team from running its business as it sees fit. The Cubs have to be one of a few teams, if not the only team, in MLB that owns its park outright without public dollars.

        The rooftop owners can’t stop the renovations. Tunney jumped ship because he can plainly see the reality of this deal’s inevitability. The alderman represents the entire ward and a revamped Wrigley Field will continue to be a great thing for the area. The thing that kills me about the neighborhood association and rooftop owners is that they don’t seem to realize that the value of the area is wholly because of the Cubs. If they left, the bars and restaurants in the area would go out of business and property values would suffer.

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  4. eastsider says:

    If I were in charge of P.R. for the Cubs, the first thing I would announce I was renovating would be the restrooms.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      … our half of the seats whose view of any fly ball is blocked out.

      Wrigley Field is a beautiful ballpark in June and July. BUt, in order to enjoy the game without obstructed views, you have to sit in certain areas. There’s no parking (I love paying people $30 to park in their driveway, only to be boxed in), it’s like everything was built for hobbits, etc.

      For a non-Cub fan, Wrigley was a great place to go ONCE. After you crossed off “seeing the Ivy” off your list, there’s not a whole lotta reasons to go back. I guess even if you ARE a Cub fan, there’s not a lot of reasons to go back. *grin*

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      • MichaelD says:

        I think the views are fine in most of the stadium. You cannot see parts of the outfield in the bleachers, but I’ve had more trouble with that particular problem in the new Busch stadium. (And have heard the same problem exists in the Phillies stadium).

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  5. Synovia says:

    Revitalize the neighborhood?

    Wrigleyville is one of the most expensive areas in Chicago. Its about as vital as neighborhoods get.

    I honestly can’t see any way to put a hotel in there without killing everything that makes the neighborhood nice.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      What, the masses of drunk trust fund recent graduates vomiting in the street? I don’t think some hotel will deter them much. I will admit, that empty paved lot where they are planning the hotel is pretty scenic though.

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      • Dan says:

        But it’s a nice neighborhood the rest of the time, Eminor3rd, which is most of the calendar year. I think that was the point.

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        • JayT says:

          Yeah, but I don’t know of too many upscale hotels that hurt the feel of a neighborhood. They are usually considered a benefit, not a hinderance.

          It’s not like they are building some 60 storey skyscraper.

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      • Synovia says:

        Wrigleyville is a small homey neighborhood that just happens to be in the middle of everything. Its entire charm is the fact that its right next to Wrigley, but hasn’t really been built up at all. People still have yards. There are greystones instead of big apartment buildings.

        A big luxury hotel is pretty far from the feel of this neighborhood.

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    • Sarge6 says:

      Wrigleyville is expensive, but vital and nice is open to debate. Clark Street has descended to Bourbon Street North year ’round. And cops in the district will tell you about the increase in street thug crimes against victims of opportunity.

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    • Njmasse says:

      I live in wrigleyville now, and I’m not too happy about the hotel. Honestly, the worst part about the neighborhood is getting stupid tourists in the area. You might think I’m overreacting, but they really do find a way to mess your day up when you have to share a backyard with them and get on the El with them. Obviously, if you move into the area you expect to deal with them when the cubs are playing, but with a hotel in the area these tourists are going to be there year round. Thank god I willbe out of the neighborhood by time this new hotel comes up.

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  6. Ben says:

    Wendy – Nice article. One correction: Friday afternoon games start at 1:20, not 1:05.

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  7. Slacker George says:

    If teams were really concerned about post-game drunken driving, they would also stop making “last call on alcohol” announcements during the game. Those announcements serve as a reminder to the boozers to double-up.

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    • TKDC says:

      The idea that they actually care is a joke. At Nats Park for instance, if you are in a suite, you can drink your face off the whole game – you supply your own booze. If you are in the PNC club, it is free booze until the 8th inning (and you can easily get away with hoarding 2-3 extras that last you until the game is over), and you can buy booze through the end of the game (maybe after, I’m always too drunk by then anyway, but I don’t drive).

      From what I’ve heard about Cubs games, it is a shit show and whether they stop beer sales in the 5th, 7th, or 9th inning probably makes very little difference.

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  8. skmd says:

    every simulation I’ve seen of the proposed jumbotron puts it over the L field bleachers. I’m wondering – IF the cubs are serious about trying to accomodate the rooftop views as much as possible (admittedly, a big if) – if there wouldn’t be less obstruction if they moved the old scoreboard to the L field position, and put the jumbotron where the present scoreboard is.

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  9. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Instant start up vidoes? Do Not Want.

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  10. Tammany says:

    Chicago politics has been deemed the most corrupt for over 20+years according to the FBI and numerous studies done by Illinois Universities that need Chicagoan $$$$.. google it

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