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.
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.