MESA, Ariz. — Rahm Emanuel and the rooftop owners wouldn’t take the Cubs seriously if they threatened to move to Rosemont.
Chairman Tom Ricketts admitted as much during Wednesday’s state-of-the-team news conference at Cubs Park, the $99 million spring-training facility financed with public money in Arizona. The Cubs used the idea of Naples, Fla., to convince Mesa to pay up for a new complex, but they don’t have that leverage within City Hall and the 44th Ward.
After missing what would have been the first offseason of building for the $500 million Wrigleyville project, Ricketts said team officials are still working through several issues with the rooftops. The chairman expressed optimism “we’ll get to the finish line on this,” which is something Cubs fans have heard before.
“You can’t just pretend Wrigley Field’s another ballpark,” Ricketts said. “Like something built out in some suburb somewhere that’s 20 years old and nobody cares about. I don’t think it would be realistic to say that ripping a page out of any other team’s playbook would really apply to us. We have a special situation. We respected that and acted accordingly.”
Ricketts said the team plans to have a new Budweiser sign up in right field by Opening Day. The Jumbotron in left field has been a sticking point in the negotiations. The Cubs have declined to begin construction until they receive assurances they won’t get sued by the rooftop association (which has a revenue-sharing contract with the team through 2023). The new clubhouse and player facilities expected to be ready this season aren’t happening now.
“We’ve put a lot of money into it already,” Ricketts said. “We’ve really stepped up the amount of maintenance and (capital expenditures) that we’re doing at the park in hopes that all this will work out. It’s not like it’s going from a standing start to a complete renovation. (But) if you’re going to go out and scrape up another $300 or $500 million, you got to know what you’re investing in.”
The idea of moving from Clark and Addison became a non-starter when the Ricketts family bought the team — and a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago — from Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. in October 2009.
“To pretend that it’s just any other park — I don’t think that’s credible,” Ricketts said. “The truth is we still have to get this done, and we’re not quite there yet. And if we can’t ride it out these last few steps, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But the key is, we’re committed to renovating and improving the park and saving it for the next generation.”
The Cubs have tried to borrow from the Boston Red Sox blueprints while redesigning Wrigley Field. Red Sox owner John Henry told Boston reporters that Fenway Park should last another 30 years.
“We’re planning on 50 with the renovations,” Ricketts said. “In fact, my brother said that to a person a couple years ago and they said: ‘That’s horrible Mr. Ricketts. How can you only save the park for 50 more years?’ That’s the way people feel. The renovations will pull the park together for the next generation of fans, maybe the next two generations of fans.”
The Cubs thought they could count on public money, until a game-changer in the 2012 presidential campaign. The New York Times detailed an anti-Obama “Super PAC” backed by Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch and TD Ameritrade founder. That led to a freeze-out from the mayor’s office in Chicago.
Joe Ricketts is the chairman of Ending Spending, a political organization “dedicated to educating and engaging American taxpayers about wasteful and excessive government spending” in Washington, according to its website. One of his sons, Todd, a Cubs board member, is listed as its chief executive officer.
The Cubs played hardball here, getting their new complex near the Loop 101 and 202 freeways and the Tempe/Scottsdale borders. But Mesa and the North Side would be an apples-to-oranges comparison.
“There’s a hundred years of history at Wrigley, and we have to respect that,” Tom Ricketts said. “All along, it’s been our goal to preserve and improve Wrigley, because it does mean so much to our fans. It means so much to baseball. And we’re still working on that premise. We’re going to try to get that accomplished.
“This is the 100th anniversary this year, (and) we want to build a second century at Wrigley. There’s a lot of differences (between the two situations). I’m glad this got done. This is beautiful. It’s the best facility in spring training. It’s the best stadium in spring training. Now we got to just get it done in Chicago.”