Here's how it would work. Tax dollars would be used to fund sorely needed upgrades to the 98-year-old landmark, freeing Ricketts to develop an adjoining triangular parcel into office space for Cubs management and an adjacent parcel he purchased into a mixed-use facility.
Ricketts purchased the parcel in December for $20 million. To date, he has invested $15 million to $20 million per year in improvements to Wrigley Field.
Thus far, no one has bitten. Not Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, nor former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who left office last year, nor current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, though Ricketts has given all three plenty to chew on.
Along with renovations to Wrigley Field, development of the “Triangle Parcel” would pump $400 million in investment into the area and create 1,000 construction jobs, as well as hundreds of permanent jobs, all while providing permanent tax benefits to the city and the state. Ricketts hasn't specified how he intends to develop the newly purchased parcel, other than to suggest uses may include entertainment components, but it's a fair bet that whatever he has in mind will generate hundreds more construction jobs and stimulate even more investment in the neighborhood, already one of the city's most vibrant, owing to its proximity to Wrigley Field.
For these reasons, it appears Emanuel and Ricketts are close to a deal, so close that details are emerging, including plans to relax the ballpark’s landmark status in order to generate $150 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues. Particulars call for additional outfield signage behind the Wrigley Field bleachers, sponsored “gateway” archways that welcome people to “Wrigleyville: Home of the Cubs,” street closings to accommodate street fairs, a stadium club, a restaurant and several thousand premium-priced seats.
A similar plan worked for Boston's Fenway Park, the nation's oldest baseball stadium.
Will it work in Chicago, the city that works?
It will if its mayor has anything to say about it. In recent months, Emanuel, who is marking his first anniversary as mayor, has grown more adamant about stimulating construction – and job growth – in Chicago, whether at O'Hare Airport, where he intends to proceed with a pair of new runways, or downtown, where he has proposed funding green renovations to city-owned buildings with a proposed infrastructure bank.
He has been just as adamant about creating funding sources that don't rely on tax dollars. As such, Ricketts reportedly would be required to provide some of the cash required to renovate Wrigley Field, even if it means scaling back his other development plans.
As Emanuel recently told reporters, "I will not put my money in their field so they can take their money and invest around the field."
Nonetheless, tax dollars may figure into the equation, now that Rickets reportedly has revived a plan to fund some of the renovations with state bonds and repay the funds with an amusement tax on ticket buyers. Citing tough times, Quinn and Daley initially rejected the scheme in 2010. Emanuel, who once referred to the scheme as a “non-starter,” reportedly is willing to revive it if the Cubs guarantee a minimum payment regardless of the amount the tax generates.
Whatever the outcome, it will be telling. With both his infrastructure plan and plans for O'Hare just that – plans – the Wrigley renovations will provide a first look at how much power Chicago's new mayor wields when brokering major development deals.