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Chicago Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts makes a lot of stops for speaking engagements, both in the business and baseball communities. It’s possible he talks about Wrigley Field and the need for renovations frequently, and it gets reported only occasionally.

It’s also possible that he hasn’t spoken at length about it recently, and that’s why when he did it this week, it got noticed. I mentioned a while ago in the Bullets that Ricketts would be speaking at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and, when he did, he spoke at length about both the need for renovations at Wrigley Field, and the fairness of the project being at least partially publicly funded.

“We need to improve it,” Ricketts said of the Cubs’ home, according to the Daily Herald. “When everyone is in their chairs, they’re pretty happy. When they have to get up to get in line for the washroom or food, then some of the shortcomings step up and you can kind of see them. So it’s definitely our goal to preserve the park for the next generation of fans, as well as improve the amenities for the people who come today.”

When it comes to addressing those shortcomings and improving amenities (which amenities presumably include modern, competitive facilities for Cubs players), Ricketts isn’t ready to give up on finding some public financial support for necessary improvements at Wrigley Field.

“We definitely have a lot of dialogue with a lot of elected officials, and I think it’s all moving in the right direction,” Ricketts said, adding that he thinks “people are starting to get” Wrigley Field’s unique funding needs. “When we’re able to come up with something that works for everyone, it will be out there, and I hope everyone will be supportive at that point.”

Ricketts was pointed when discussing why he believes public funding for a Wrigley renovation project is both necessary and fair.

“There’s 30 teams in baseball, and there’s really two ways that you finance your stadium,” Ricketts said. “One model, which about 25 teams use, is that you have a public agency build and provide you a stadium and you pay rent and expenses and some sort of amusement tax. The five other teams use a different model where they cover all of their expenses, but they don’t pay any taxes. Believe it or not, Chicago has a hybrid model where you cover all of your own expenses, remain totally private and pay the second-highest taxes in the league.”

While I do think there’s a bit of play there (I doubt that the five teams who cover their own expenses don’t pay *any* taxes – they probably just don’t pay any direct taxes on tickets), Ricketts’ point strikes me as a good one. It seems pretty unfair to expect the Cubs to simultaneously bear a disproportionately high tax burden while not receiving a disproportionately high value from the city and state who benefit from those taxes (and, frankly, benefit from the Cubs’ mere presence).

Unfortunately, arguments about “fairness” – when you’re talking about a family that bought a team for $850 million – tend to fall on deaf ears.

It’s possible that this is the start of a stumping process for Ricketts, as he tries to drum up support from all corners for a renewed public funding plan (getting the business community on your side can’t hurt when that business community helps buoy the politicians who control the purse). It’s a fascinating situation that will probably play out over a long period of time.

As a Cubs fan, though, I just hope Wrigley gets the massive facelift it needs. And soon.

(Also, it’s important to note: the at-issue amusement tax is technically paid by we ticket-buyers, but, because that inflates the price for Cubs tickets, it actually functions as a tax on the Cubs because it reduces the revenue the team could be bringing in.)

  • Mike

    It’s not technically true. Field of Schemes posted on this yesterday.

    http://www.fieldofschemes.com/news/archives/2012/03/4865_ricketts_everyb.html

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      If I weren’t on a phone, I could take issue with a few points in that article (I was aware of it). That said, on the tax point, I prefer the way I describe it to the way either Tom or Neil describe it.

  • guy

    If the Cubs sell out (or come close to selling out) a season, the amusement tax’s burden DOES NOT fall on the Cubs. They are basically selling an inelastic product – one which will be bought no matter the price (within reason) – and can pass about 100% of the costs on to the consumer.

    Also, public financing for stadiums (and other major sports-related subsidies) are beyond awful and should never, ever happen. This applies in good times, and definitely should apply when we’re laying off teachers and the state has a terrible credit rating. It’s amazing to me that this is even in question.

  • jrshipley

    I think fairness should be in comparison to working residents of Illinois, not other billionaires who may have extorted greater handouts from taxpayers. I’m fed up with the richest of the rich always asking for a handout. If you look up the facts on taxation in the state of Illinois at itep.net you will find that Illinois like most states has a regressive tax system. The less you earn the greater a percentage you pay in taxes. The bottom quintile pays 13% in state and local taxes while the 1% pay about half that. These guys can pay their fair share in taxes just like everyone else and use their profits to reinvest in the ballpark rather than taxpayer handouts.

  • https://www.facebook.com/chris.siuty Chris84

    Or they could take the White Sox approach and threaten to move to a different state if they don’t get funding.

    Honestly though, as a Chicago resident, I’m really torn on this whole issue. I’d love to see Wrigley get renovated, but at the same time, Chicago is massively in debt. It’s almost akin to asking mom and dad for money after they tell you how broke they are.

    Still, if there was a way to take from the Amusement Tax, or neighborhood TIFFs, then I guess that would be more OK. It will probably be easier since Mayor McSoxFan is no longer in office.

    *EDIT*

    Just to be clear — I am against public funding for stadiums and the such, but I’m also trying to be realistic, because it’s going to happen one way or another.

    • Mike

      But that’s the issue. The “Take from the Amusement Tax” thing sounds appealing, but it’s a fallacy. ANY government subsidy comes from ALL government revenue, regardless of tax source. They don’t keep the money in separate funds, and the Cubs aren’t the only ones who pay it. Saying things like “Let them keep the amusement tax” makes a sort of superficial sense, but it actuality it’s no different than asking the city if the Cubs can keep the property tax paid by Boeing on their downtown offices, or to ask the city for all taxes paid by anyone named “Steve”.

    • DocWimsey

      “Or they could take the White Sox approach and threaten to move to a different state if they don’t get funding.”

      Again, we are getting into complicated issues that transcend baseball, but this remains a key point. Just as long as some cities and/or states are willing to do public funding, then it makes it very difficult for any states to say no. Politicians who “stand up” to team owners will not be thanked by enough people to make it worth their whiles.

      “ANY government subsidy comes from ALL government revenue, regardless of tax source.”

      That is another good point, and another one that transcends baseball.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    I couldn’t be more against public funding of stadiums.
    The Marlins and the Nats are the most recent examples…

  • Drew

    cant we spout this political garbage on a website intended for it?

    Some of these posts are fine for the topic, but I read plenty of, “Blah blah blah, rich get richer” jargon on the sites intended for it. I dont need to read it here.

    • DocWimsey

      That sounds fine, but the simple fact of the matter is that baseball does not exist in a bubble independent of the rest of the world. This comes up all the time with players’ salaries, TV revenues, etc. Baseball is a business, business and politics have been inexorably intertwined since Andrew Jackson was president, and therefore baseball issues are been political issues since MLB’s inception.

      That being said, polemics certainly aren’t necessary!

      • Drew

        It may not, and though I agree that polemics arent necessary, eliminating that would be a tall task!

        However, I think there is a difference between stating ones opinion in regards to the relationship between baseball and business/politics and simply spouting the same right/left wing jargon that can be discussed on 95% of all other blogs.

        Although, I suppose I could simply choose not to read it and save myself some time!

        • Matt3

          how in the world do you separate baseball and politics? I’m pretty sure MLB is a government backed monopoly; look at the antitrust laws. And doesn’t politics play a role if the government takes my income by force and gives it to someone else?

  • Kevin

    Public funding to support Billionaires is just a joke. No gun was pointed at Ricketts head when they bought the Cubs. They knew Wrigley needed immediate attention and still paid top dollar. The city of Chicago is broke, the state of Illinois is broke. How can anybody justify using public funds so the Rickett family doesnt have pay for everything out of their own pocket? Here is a suggestion that may solve the situation. Do not renew any tv contracts! There are still 2-3 years left with WGN and The Comcast contract goes out to 2019. In exchange for an early buyout of the Comcast contract simply give your 25% interest to the other 3 clubs (white sox, bulls & black hawks) then start your own network or sign a nice deal like the Angels just signed, $3 Billion over 20 years. Now you can use this new money to rebuild Wrigley Field.

    • Matt3

      no one pointed a gun at Rickett’s head and told him to purchase the cubs, but you can bet if you didn’t pay your income tax the government would point a gun at your head. They take our money by force and give it to other people. What is that?

      • Edwin

        And what is the deal with homework? You’re not working on your home!

      • Bric

        I believe that’s called antidisestablishmentarianism.

  • notcubbiewubbie

    but its ok that reinsdorf pays a pittance for us cellular and the mc cheapsky’s use soldier field for the same pittance.

  • Kevin

    3 wrongs don’t make a right!

    • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

      Well then, maybe Chicago and Illinois needs to stop taxing the sale of Cubs merchandise and tickets in and around Wrigley.

      Oh, and maybe they should stop taxing the hotel stays and gasoline and food of the people who come to the area to watch Cubs games.

      Maybe they should stop taxing the wages of the people employed because people come to see Cubs games.

      Oh, and maybe they should stop taxing the players that come through here and the revenues of the Cubs and the surrounding businesses.

      Maybe the County should stop collecting property taxes that are sky high around that area due to Wrigley being there.

      Or maybe politicians should realize that a revamped Wrigley will help bring in a better team which will help bring in more fans. Additionally, if I remember correctly, Ricketts initially proposed that the money would be paid back using high amusement taxes on the tickets, meaning the government would pay $0.00.

      It doesn’t seem right at all to expect the Cubs to lose out on millions, pay more in millions while being at a competative disadvantage for no real good reason. Is it really that evil for a business just to ask for a level playing field from the government?

  • Matt

    My issue with this is that since the last time the Cubs have gotten any money for major renovations or a new park at all (VERY long time ago) the White Sox have been given public funding for a new stadium AND to have that stadium renovated less than 15 years later. I know a lot of the renovation money for the “Cell” was private, and the renovation wasn’t along the same lines as Wrigley’s would be, but there was still some public funding that went into it.

    Considering how much more money the Cubs bring into Chicago, I think that while I’m not a big fan of public funding for stadiums in general, it would still be fair given precedent for the Cubs to get some public assistance here.

    • Pat

      Uugh, no public funding please. I don’t think most people realize exactly how bad of shape Illinois is in. We’re Greece, and that’s not really an exaggeration. Regardless of whatever deals were given out previously (contributing to our current situation), the state is beyond broke. There is no money to give out to billionaires for their private facilities.

  • Spriggs

    “Or they could take the White Sox approach and threaten to move to a different state if they don’t get funding.”

    Which ALSO happens to be the approach the Cubs took recently to attain the public funding for a new park in Mesa. With the added support of key local public officials to make the case to the public – the results were a landslide victory (as voted by Mesa citizens). Ricketts won’t be able to do the same in Chicago without a huge amount of political help. The rhetoric against “billionaries” and “corporate welfare” is too easy.

  • Mick

    This is a bizarre debate because the Chicago City Council has designated Wrigley Field’s marquee, ivy, scoreboard, and bleachers a landmark but yet the citizens, city, and state don’t feel obligated to contribute financially. According to the New York Times, “internal calculations found the team loses out on $30 million annually because sponsors can’t display advertisements on the hand-operated center-field scoreboard or ivy-covered outfield walls” (http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/fenway-and-wrigley-find-two-sides-to-landmark-status/).

    I understand the trepidation of local residents funding stadium improvements especially with the current financial status of the State of Illinois and City of Chicago but an investment into the renovation at Wrigley could pay huge dividends. Construction workers would be put back to work, local suppliers would be able to unload their surpluses, neighborhood property values would increase, revenue for local businesses would spike, the Cubs would be able to pour millions more into the on-field product leading to, gasp, a World Series, etc., etc., etc..

    I live in Minneapolis where we just built a beautiful new park using public funds and the returns have been great. The county is already ahead of schedule in paying back the public’s $350 million 30-year bonds and estimate the bonds to be paid back in 25 years saving over $20 million in interest (http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2010/10/target-fieldsales-tax-combo-providing-financial-home-run-hennepin-county-and). And wait, this is Minneapolis not Chicago. The increased revenues generated by Target Field has allowed Twins’ ownership to double player payroll, add renovations such as another jumbotron, player statues, stadium Wi-Fi, etc. all enhancing the fan experience.

    In conclusion, Chicago and Illinois need to sack up, support our favorite team, and let’s win a freaking World Series before we all rot in our graves.

    • Spriggs

      Yes, this is the kind of help Ricketts will need to get this done! Good job, Mick!

      • Wilbur

        I have to agree with Mick also, there appear to me to be more economic upsides for everyone on this then there are downs. Strikes me as the price the community (Chicago and Illinois need to bear to keep this economic engine producing well into next century).

        At the risk of being criticized for a political comment, Illinois’ poor fiscal condition is due to structural Medicaid and public sector pension issues which are a black hole that will suck in every dollar from every revenue source if not dealt with systemically.

        Finally, updating Wrigley is by definition about modernizing an existing stadium versus the cost of tearing down and replacing it with a new one. I really like this approach, which might seem a no brainer, but most cities don’t go this route.

        While a minor concern at this point, it is not beyond possibility that communities outside of Chicago might eventually make offers if Chicago chooses not to assist. Granted, Rickett’s ownership of Wrigley tempers this option. However, even if Ricketts doesn’t go looking for options outside Wrigley; would cities be tempted if some other community(s) in or out of Illinois said, “We will build it, if you will come?”

        Nothing happens a vacuum.

  • Mark

    Threaten to move. Sorry, but I would and didn’t the Sox get the funding? The amount of money the Cubs bring to the city is very lucrative. Time to put back in to the Cubs. I know Chicago is massively in debt, but that’s because of the shady politicians that residents keep electing. It’s their own fault. Time for Chicago to give back to the Cubs.

    • Pat

      That’s not much of a threat though. Ricketts’ first order of business was going on about how much he loves Wrigley, and plan to stay there forever, and more recently stating that wouldn’t consider playing even one season away from Wrigley. Even if you ignore that, look at the actual threat.

      “If you don’t give me what I want, I’m going to take my team and move it from one of the largest TV markets, a large corporate season ticket base, and a tourist attraction stadium and move it to a small TV market, that can’t support our current pricing structure or season ticket base. Leaving myself stuck with landmarked real estate that I can’t really do much with other than pay taxes on it every year”.

      Who would actually take that threat seriously? Long term Ricketts would be losing billions (literally) to save a fraction of that.

      • King Jeff

        Except that he wouldn’t have to threaten to change markets. He could just buy some land and move the team out of Wrigleyville into a brand new Wrigley replica with a team facility, parking garage, and a slew of team owned restaurants and bars. I don’t think they could pull that bluff off, but it might be worth a shot.

        • Pat

          How would that cost less than rehabbing Wrigley? Threatening to move to Arlington Heights doesn’t hurt the state at all.

          • http://www.casualcubsfan.com hansman1982

            That would get the City of Chicago to kick in a few bucks and pressure the State to approve the funding. It would turn the war into a US/Great Britain against Germany and Russia into a US/Great Britain/Russia against Germany battle.

  • Bobo Justis

    Make plans to build a multipurpose retractable dome stadium at Arlington Park where the Cubs will play 50 games a year. The other days of the year it can be used for tractor pulls and rock concerts. You will generate at least as much revenue there in 50 games as you do at the current Wrigley in 81. Play the other 31 games during the day at Wrigley in June, July, and August, and on the McDonald’s or triangle site build a building where city fans can watch the games in Arlington on Jumbotrons while they drink Old Style.

    I’m not saying that the thing will get built, but the concept will get everyone’s attention if it is economically feasible. The Cubs get more night games, the neighborhood won’t have any night games, games at Wrigley will be rarer and more valuable, and they don’t have to spend so much on the rehab.

  • rocky8263

    Anyone that lived or lives in lakeview aka “Wrigleyville” in the 1960′s or 1970′s can testify what a craphole neighborhood it was. I lived above my family’s tavern at Waveland and Halsted and was not allowed out after dark. My point is Wrigley Field and the Cub’s are directly responsible for bettering the area beginning in the 80′s.The success of the restaraunts and bars and home values exploding started about the same time the Tribune bought the team. I’m sure there are other reasons for the area’s climb but having three million visitors each summer has to help. The city spent many millions on the lakefront jewel Millenium Park and Rahm would be wise to help with Wrigley.

  • JulioZuleta

    I’m about to buy tickets to a few games. Any BN’ers sitting in the bleachers in early April?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I’ll be there Thursday the 12th.

  • rcleven

    And our TOLL ROADS would stop collecting tolls when the bonds are paid off.The five percent state income tax will be repealed in a few years. I have a bridge I’m trying to sell.

  • die hard

    Should be a campaign issue in Nov elections…promise to help fund Wrigley will garner or lose votes depending on side of issue….Obama v Romney…bet Ricketts favors Romney but would welcome Obama style bailout…

  • Sandberg

    Fuck Chicago in the ass. Cubs should start seriously exploring options to move to the suburbs. Eventually the city will have to cave.

    • rcleven

      If the Cubs are looking for money for remodel where is the money going to come from to build a ballpark in the suburbs?

    • brittney

      WHAT???? Hell no they shouldn’t move. They play at Wrigley…WRIGLEY for god sakes. Its a historic landmark. A ton of cub fans go watch a cubs game there just because its wrigley. Its got so much history to it. I fly home every chance I get to spend the days at wrigley. I am a die hard cubbie fan so I also go for that but wrigley itself is a place to enjoy period. Plus a ton of fans will be lost because of it. Its just like fenway, no chance of either moving out of the respected ballparks!

      Just for you saying that I think you should have your head checked out.

      After seeing you post that and you’re supposed to be a cubs fan, I need a drink and I don’t even drink.

  • notcubbiewubbie

    see once again the ballpark IS the reason the cubs don’t win world series’. nobody wants to admit it but this is the only major league team that has to bow down to the neighborhood, city, and state any time it wants to do something for the good of the team.(a normal amount of night games, new scoreboard,etc.) people want their cake and eat it too! i want the ambiance of old wrigley but it stands in the way of competing with all the other teams in 2012. go ahead and hammer me i’m prepared.

    • Pat

      The Cubs wanted the landmark status. Do you really think that was some neighborhood people who put that together? They did that right in the early WGN superstation and Harry years. They wanted to sell the place as a tourist attraction and they did.

      They still love having the landmark status. It won’t be a problem with renovations if they don’t want it to be. As an example, one of the landmarked items is the brick wall in the outfield and the ivy. You don’t think they could replace the wall if they wanted to? That’s a hazard to employees. I know we love giving Soriano shit about being afraid of the wall, but let’s be honest, it’s a brick wall in the field of play. It has to be the stupidest idea remaining in a sports venue today. The flagpole in Houston being a close second. Bring in OSHA and that landmark tag gets removed in a minute.

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