For more than a year, plans to execute $500 million in renovations and additions to Chicago's Wrigley Field, home to Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs, have been held hostage by threat of litigation from neighborhood rooftop owners who say outfield signage included in the scheme would violate a contract they hold with the Cubs that keeps sight lines open in exchange for a fee they pay the ball club.
Over the years, the owners have constructed bleachers, benches and the like atop their roofs and profited from the seemingly inexhaustible enthusiasm fans have for the losing franchise.
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts says revenues from the project, which calls for hotel and office structures on adjacent parcels, would provide the seed money required to make the Cubs a winner. The jumbotron and signage, he says, are necessary to fund construction.
Problem is, the contract with rooftop owners, who pay the Cubs 17% of their gross revenues, extends through 2023.
There's a lot at stake here. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose mayoralty could use a kick start, urged the Cubs to “get started” on the project last winter. Among other benefits, the project would create up to 2,000 construction jobs, jobs Emanuel and Chicago's construction industry could sorely use. It's been some time since the city had a big, splashy project to rally around.
Rather than heed Emanuel's advice, Ricketts, fearing litigation, continued negotiations with rooftop owners.
Now he's had it. Yesterday, he unveiled plans for an even bigger and bolder plan that would plaster the outfield with signage, as was originally proposed, years ago. As long as rooftops owners are inclined to sue, why not swing for the fences?
The Ricketts family has deep pockets. They are billionaires. Owners of surrounding buildings aren't slouches either, but likely aren't up for the costs that protracted litigation could incur. Also, Emanuel wants this project done, so the Ricketts will have that going for them when they present revised plans to Chicago City Council on June 4.
Assuming the plan is approved, the Cubs say they will begin ordering up steel on June 5.
Wow. That's hardball.