Nothing has been finalized, and we’ve little more to go on right now other than Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement that the Chicago Cubs and the city were in the “final stages” of working out a plan that would pave the way for a Wrigley Field renovation. But a couple reports suggest that, indeed, the plans of a private/public partnership on Wrigley are underway, and could be announced soon.
If there is an agreement [between the city and the Cubs], sources said it’s likely to include a variation of the financing scheme that Emanuel once called a “non-starter”: the city forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement-tax growth from the Cubs.
But there’s a new wrinkle: The Cubs have agreed to a minimum guaranteed payment to the city that would increase every year — an attractive proposition after amusement-tax revenues plunged in 2011 along with attendance at Cubs games.
And if amusement-tax growth exceeds the amount needed to retire stadium bonds, the city would get a share of that money.
“That protects against the downside,” a source familiar with the plan said. “The city and county will be able to budget for at least that amount, regardless of what happens to attendance.”
The Cubs would also outlay some of the cash needed for the project, which could change the team’s plans for the Triangle Building. If the Cubs had their druthers, the city would fund the Wrigley renovation piece, and the Cubs would fund the Triangle Building project (made to their specifications). If a compromise is struck, it could lead to both projects being in one pot, with money come both from the Cubs and the city. In that instance, the Triangle Building project would have to conform to some of the city’s desires (less included parking, for example, as well as more year-round amenities, rather than Cubs-specific amenities).
Insiders who would know say what’s under discussion is similar to what has been considered for a while: a roughly $300 million to $500 million project to rebuild the aging ball field and perhaps to fund construction of a new multiuse structure immediately to Wrigley’s west.
The Cubs ownership group headed by Tom Ricketts reportedly would pay more than half of the cost of the reconstruction, with the city chipping in some proceeds from its amusement tax, plus perhaps some other innovative financing.
Among other financing options that insiders say have been discussed: imposing some kind of extra game-day sales tax or hotel tax surcharge in the Wrigley Field area to funnel Cubs-generated revenue back to the field. That could be quite controversial among Lakeview-area politicians.
The amusement tax subsidy would work much like a tax-increment financing district. Proceeds beyond a certain specified level would go not into city coffers, but to pay off construction bonds — perhaps with a guarantee from the team that a minimum amount would be collected every year.
Crain’s goes on to suggest one reason for the renewed discussions isn’t terribly altruistic:
One source close to the matter said the recent talks had been jump-started both by Mr. Emanuel’s heavy focus in his first year in office on economic development and by the fact that Wrigley actually generated less amusement tax for the city last year than it had in previous years.
That was a sign of a bad baseball season for the Cubs, but arguably also signals that the Wrigley Field cash post needs some plumping if it’s to continue contributing big money to the city treasury.
Perhaps that can put to rest the suggestion that, on the balance, the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field don’t offer a significant economic benefit to the city. So, if the city and the Cubs share the renovation financing load, as it appears wil be the case, this could wind up being a rare win-win in the world of public funding for professional sports facilities.
Given the Cubs’ lack of negotiating power (i.e., they can’t credibly threaten to move), getting any portion of the funding from the city/state/county is probably going to be chalked up as a win (not unlike when the Cubs got Chris Volstad for Carlos Zambrano).
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