CHICAGO (AP) - The Chicago Cubs have been fighting for years to get back to
the World Series. They may have a fight on their hands to upgrade Wrigley
The Cubs unveiled details Monday of their $500 million plan to renovate the
99-year-old ballpark. It calls for more night games, a new hotel, a new
clubhouse, extended beer sales, various upgrades for fans - and a massive
electronic video screen that could spark a legal battle with rooftop owners
who have a financial stake in being able to view the games from across the
The proposed 6,000-square-foot screen in left field is nearly three times as
large as the venerable scoreboard currently atop the centerfield bleachers.
Team chairman Tom Ricketts said “significant” advertising-related revenue
from the video screen and a 1,000-square-foot sign in right field would be
pumped back into the team.
“If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our city,”
Ricketts of the Cubs, who have not won it all since 1908 and haven’t played
in the series since 1945.
The Cubs say rooftop views would be “largely preserved” and that the sign
and screen are “far less than our original desire for seven signs to help
offset the cost of ballpark restoration.” Ricketts would not say what the
team means when it says the signs would have “minimal impact” on the views
from the rooftops. Nor would he discuss the likelihood of a lawsuit, saying
only that “we will take that issue as it comes.”
The rub is that the rooftop owners have a contract with the Cubs in which
they share revenue from the rooftop seats - an unusual arrangement, to be
sure. The rooftop owners have 11 years remaining on the contract, and they
showed no sign of endorsing the big new signs the Cubs want to put up.
“We have a contract with the Chicago Cubs and we intend to see that it’s
enforced,” said Beth Murphy, who owns rooftop bleachers and Murphy’s
Bleachers, a popular tavern just beyond Wrigley’s centerfield wall. “We have
fulfilled our end of the contract, we pay them 17 percent of our gross
revenues every year.”
Murphy said the rooftop owners were shut out of negotiations between the
city and the team. She said she couldn’t imagine how a 6,000-square-foot
sign - slightly more than a tenth of an acre - could be installed without
disrupting views from the rooftops.
Ricketts said the two sides have a ways to go, that the agreement must be
approved by city planners and the City Council. But he said Mayor Rahm
Emanuel and the alderman whose ward includes Wrigley Field, Tom Tunney,
support the overall plan. The mayor’s office has, in fact, agreed the signs
can be installed, but there has been no agreement on size or design.
Only Boston’s Fenway Park is older than Wrigley Field among major league
parks. Baseball purists love its intimacy - the ivy-covered walls, the
commitment to day games - but the team says it spends $15 million a year
just to keep up with basic repairs and desperately wants new revenue to pay
for new amenities. A better showplace could perhaps help the Cubs snap a
World Series championship drought that dates to 1908, six years before
Wrigley was built.
Under the plan, the number of night games could be increased from 30 to 40,
and construction would include a 175-room hotel, an office building with
retail space and health club, and 1,000 “remote” parking spots that would be
free and come with shuttle service. Emanuel has hailed the “framework”
agreement, noting that it includes no taxpayer funding.
If the deal wins approval from city officials, Ricketts said work could
begin after this season ends and be completed over the next five years.
A final deal, when it comes, will end lengthy and sometimes contentious
negotiations. The Ricketts family has been pushing for an overhaul of the
aging ballpark and ways to bring in more money since buying the Cubs in 2009
for $845 million. Ricketts said the goal was always to keep the Cubs at
Wrigley, where he met his future wife.