Ricketts changes the Wrigley argument: 'Were not a museum'

Ricketts changes the Wrigley argument: 'Were not a museum'
January 20, 2013, 2:15 am
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The Cubs changed the argument while unveiling their plans to renovate Wrigley Field.

The lobbying efforts will revolve around asking the city to ease restrictions on the ancient ballpark, and not begging for public assistance, which had become such a non-starter, especially during a bitter presidential election.

Chairman Tom Ricketts reset the public-relations campaign on Saturday at the Cubs Convention, with his executives revealing conceptual designs for a $300 million restoration project in front of a standing-room only crowd packed into a downtown Sheraton ballroom.

Ricketts signaled that using amusement taxes to help fund construction is off the table.

The negotiations will center around allowing the Cubs to put up more advertising signage, a move that would take aim at the rooftop owners, and schedule games at times that would maximize revenue. In this light, Sheffield Avenue could be turned into their version of Yawkey Way, the pedestrian space outside Fenway Park, and the Jumbotron-type video board(s) could be in play.

Given that kind of flexibility, president of business operations Crane Kenney said the Ricketts family would be prepared to write the entire check themselves.

"We're not talking about [amusement taxes] right now," Ricketts said. "We're looking at other things instead. One of the ways we look at it is: Treat us like a private institution. Let us go about doing our business and then well take care of ourselves."

The Cubs made a clumsy attempt to get financing in the fall of 2010, asking the state to float $200 million in bonds while the Ricketts family promised to match $200 million more in private investment around the neighborhood. Ricketts father, Joe, runs Ending Spending, the conservative political organization.

Team officials appeared to be making progress last year until a New York Times report exposed the Super PAC backed by the Ricketts patriarch, how it looked into bankrolling racially charged advertisements against President Barack Obama. That power play angered Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff. The story went viral in May and killed any momentum.

Ricketts said he still hasn't spoken directly with Emanuel, though team officials are in regular contact with the mayors office.

"They've been very positive conversations," Kenney said. "It's just a matter of [Emanuel] wants to protect the taxpayer. We understand that. This cannot have a negative impact on taxpayers and it has to create substantial jobs. [So the] ticket to play is no negative impact on taxpayers and it has to create a lot of jobs. Everything we've talked about does both of those."

The Cubs claim the project  which will be phased in across five offseasons will create 2,100 jobs. Kenney said the Cubs would not play in another stadium  such as U.S. Cellular Field or Milwaukee's Miller Park  while the renovations take place.

Kenney said the Cubs do not need Wrigley Field's landmark status removed because "most of those elements we would never want to touch anyway -- the marquee and the ivy and the scoreboard."

The Cubs are looking broadly for the city to relax some rules, like permitting them to play 3:05 p.m. games on Fridays, an idea enthusiastically approved by their focus groups.

"We're treated like a public facility, like a library or a school," Kenney said. "Here's what you can do. Here's what you can't do. We, the public, are going to tell you what you can do with your building. [Our] view is: As long as someones going to tell us what we can do, maybe you should help us fix it."
 
This is where the Cubs are framing the debate now. Ricketts is too polite to come out and say it: Get off my lawn. But that could be part of the compromise with the city.

"We're not a museum," Ricketts said. "We're a business."