From Jumbotron to rooftops, Wrigley deal still taking shape

From Jumbotron to rooftops, Wrigley deal still taking shape
April 15, 2013, 9:00 pm
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The Cubs staged this event on the Wrigley Field concourse to show how much a building that’s almost 100 years old needs a facelift.

On a damp Monday morning, the green folding chairs weren’t set up outside so that the iconic center-field scoreboard could be the backdrop. The media could have been herded into the stadium club where president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and manager Dale Sveum had their first news conferences in the fall of 2011.

But the optics didn’t include Tom Ricketts standing at the podium next to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Tom Tunney. The chairman had called those two politicians “the MVP players in this process,” which still has to go through a public phase before the Cubs can green light the $500 million project.

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“No reason they’re not here today, except that it’s cold and dark and kind of out of the way,” Ricketts said, uh, jokingly. “No, the fact is that we’re all together on this. We’ve worked many, many hours talking through the issues and getting to this point. And like I’ve said before, I think the mayor and his staff have been great and the alderman’s been extremely productive. We look forward to all moving forward together.”

Emanuel and Tunney got quoted in a City Hall press release, but no one blasted “Go Cubs Go” on the sound system. Ricketts wasn’t showered with Gatorade. Matt Garza didn’t pop out from behind a corner with a shaving-cream pie. You didn’t get the sense this was game over.

It’s worth noting this announcement came 11 months after the Cubs were on the verge of getting $150 million in local assistance, until The New York Times exposed Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch, and his Super PAC’s potential role in anti-Obama attack ads, which infuriated Emanuel.

And this photo op came three months after a splashy unveiling at Cubs Convention, where team executives changed the argument and said the family would pay for it if the city would get off their lawn, ease certain restrictions and let them run the business their way.   

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The City Council, Landmarks Commission and Lakeview neighborhood will be among the parties weighing in across the next several weeks, possibly months. And the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association released a statement that read in part:

“No community process, city ordinance, or agreement without our consent can or should dismiss contractual rights granted to us by the Chicago Cubs in 2004. Rooftop owners reserve the right to use any and all means necessary to enforce the remaining 11 years of our 20-year contract.”

Ricketts said he hasn’t spoken to any of the rooftop owners recently about the negotiations, leaving him with no idea what that lobby will do next.

“We’ll take that issue as it comes,” Ricketts said. “I can’t really control the future. We’ll move forward and see what happens.”

The rooftop owners aren’t the focus group here. The Jumbotron is coming.

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“We spent a lot of time talking to our fans about how they feel about a video board at the park,” Ricketts said. “I like Wrigley Field. I’m very traditional. But the fact is, when you look at what the fans are asking for now to improve their gameday experience, and you balance (tradition), and you add to that the economic value of a video board, it becomes obvious that it’s the next best step for us.”

The Cubs did a nice job of blending a thin LED board into the right-field scenery last year. But this proposal features a Jumbotron that would take up 6,000 square feet beyond left field.

“The video boards have grown over the last few years,” Ricketts said. “People are expecting to be able to see replays and stats and other things the video boards provide. We thought that was the right number for us and we have the space to do that.”

The baseball operations department hopes this will be a game-changer that fuels the major-league payroll.

The Cubs want to increase the number of night games from 30 to 40 each season and take control of Sheffield Avenue for weekend home games between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Last call for beers would be pushed to the end of the seventh inning or 10:30 p.m. – whichever comes first – and until the end of the show for concert dates (maximum of four per year).

With his family developing a Starwood hotel across from the marquee, Ricketts claims this project will create 1,300 permanent jobs. Between the hotel, open-air plaza and new two-story Captain Morgan Club, the Cubs want to create 35,000 square feet of advertising, plus total control over signage inside the ballpark that doesn’t impact the rooftops.

After a reporter mentioned turning this into Times Square, Ricketts used words like “tasteful” and “respectful,” when all Cubs fans want is to hear “done deal” and see them put a winning team on the field. 

“We have no Naked Cowboy,” Ricketts said, “so it won’t be Times Square.”