Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: Cubs Could Still Get $150 Million in Public Funding

At last check, there was a fair bit of understandable political intransigence when it comes to offering public funding for a renovation of Wrigley Field, which could cost more than $300 million. Those struggles have led to the Chicago Cubs, the Mayor’s Office, and other interested parties working behind the scenes to provide ways for the Cubs to raise some of the necessary funding on their own.

But that doesn’t mean the City of Chicago isn’t going to chip in some funding. According to Tribune sources, the current plan being discussed would provide the Cubs with $150 million in funding from the growth in amusement taxes on Chicago Cubs tickets. The other $150 million would come from the Cubs, but the team would have some help in raising that money, as has previously been discussed.

Under the mayor’s framework, the team would be responsible for half the costs of the project. The trade-off, it appears, will lead to more commercialization of Wrigley Field that will change the look of the beloved icon.

To raise $150 million in revenue, the team is considering several options, sources said, including:

•More signs like the red Toyota logo behind the outfield bleachers.

•A Jumbotron.

•Selling concessions on streets around Wrigley.

The stadium changes would require accommodations, such as altering the city law that confers landmark status on Wrigley Field. The mayor is open to streamlining that process, which would make it easier for the Cubs to add more advertising around the ballpark, a source said.

This kind of hybrid solution – the city/state/county provide part of the funding (but only via taxes raised directly from Cubs’ sales), and the Cubs provide the other part (particularly if by way of relaxed restrictions on their ability to generate revenue) – could really be the best way to go. That’s not only because it is politically palatable, but also because, long-term, it could provide greater benefits to the Cubs than if they simple received a check for the full $300 million from the city/state/county tomorrow. With restrictions eased, the Cubs could find themselves flush with new revenue streams that contribute directly to the on-field product after those streams have raised enough money for the Wrigley renovation.

This approach is getting my stamp of approval, unless someone wants to change my mind. I know we could fight about the specific revenue generators (some folks hate the idea of a Jumbotron, for example), but, in general, this is the way to go, right?

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

45 responses to “Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: Cubs Could Still Get $150 Million in Public Funding”

  1. Jon

    I like everything but the jumbotron. However, I will admit it’s for personal, not logical or business reasons. I love that scoreboard and would be sad to see it go…

    1. Tim Mo

      Would they really think about replacing the scoreboard? I figured that was part of the landmark deal with the city. If the city is making concessions with the Cubs, maybe the scoreboard is available to change.

      1. North Side Irish

        Scoreboard is part of the landmark status (along with the marquee out front and the ivy walls). Jumbotron would have to go on a rooftop across the street or possibly somewhere near the Toyota sign. Anywhere else would block at least one of the rooftops and would end up as a law suit.

        I thought the team might look to acquire one of the rooftop buildings, especially since the “Eamus Catuli” building was rumored to be in foreclosure over the off season.

        1. Pat

          They could probably put it right in fornt of where the scoreboard is now. They might actually ba able to do that even without getting the landmark status waived.

          1. deej34

            What about the jumbotron on the roof of the building over left field. I was on a rooftop last night and noticed it had nothing… that would be kinda cool if it was not technically “in” the stadium….

        2. Wilbur

          For what my opinion is worth I like your approach …

    2. Luke

      I don’t see why the scoreboard has to go if they bring in a jumbotron.  It doesn’t seem like an either/or situation.

  2. Tim Mo

    I have no problem with the jumbotron, but where would it go? The LCD screen in right looks fantastic, but it will be a bit tougher to fit a jumbotron at Wrigley. Is a rooftop the only option?

    1. Spencer

      I would actually support a jumbotron on a rooftop, I think that would be epically awesome. But, they would probably put it somewhere over the outfield wall, which i don’t like so much.

    2. Luke

      Could they attach it to the side of one or more of the buildings across the street?  It’d block a few stories of windows, but if the Cubs buy up those floors for office space anyway that likely wouldn’t be an issue.

      1. Beer Baron

        I personally think the reason they put the Toyota sign where they did was to block the view of the one building over there without a rooftop deck — the former Budweiser building — and prevent them from ever going rooftop. I’ve heard the guy who bought it a few years ago paid pre-recession price (or at least pre-Cubs sucking price) and hoped to build a rooftop deck but financing fell through. Now its is obstructed with the Toyota sign, so the Cubs are essentially starving him out. I bet he’d sell it if Ricketts gave him a fair price. That is the perfect location, wouldn’t affect historical landmark status since it is outside of the stadium, would complement – not replace – the current scoreboard, and the team could use the building itself for retail or restaurant or a museum, etc which would generate even more money. And realistically, the total cost would be recouped in the first 5 years of advertising on the jumbotron (probably more like 2 years).

  3. MaxM1908

    I think there’s some space in right field for it. My vision would be that it not replace the Wrigley scoreboard. The real question is what rights do the rooftop owners across the street have in blocking it? My understanding was that they came to some settlement with MLB and the Cubs that granted them certain viewing rights. A Jumbotron would block some rooftops’ sightlines, perhaps leading to legal action.

  4. CubsFanBob

    I would like to know where the pitch count is now…it use to be on the LCD’s up showing the score, inning etc along the 1st / 3rd base side up on the 400 level section rail

    1. Spencer

      it’s on the video board in right.

      1. Cubbie Blues

        Yeah, but it’s not visible from the seats down the right field line.

      2. CubsFanBob

        thanks, ya my seats are parallel to the LCD board so no wonder I couldnt find them

        hopefully they add them back up there

  5. Luke

    I can’t see anybody wanting to or acting on a movement to replace the scoreboard. I can honestly say as a Cubs fan and baseball purist that a jumbotron would only enhance the experience at Wrigley Field. Boston made it work and so can the Cubs. It may block some views from the buildings across the street, but overall, it would be nice to see a replay every once in a while.

  6. Tom

    Maybe I dont understand the architecture and engineering involved, but could it not extend the old scoreboard? You leave the original – but then on either side add LCD screens – perhaps half the size of a regular one – so between the two you have a full screen… I dont mind the idea of a jumbo on a building -but thats just another hurdle you’d have to jump getting neighborhood approval – who owns it? etc. etc.

  7. clark addison

    Let’s face it. Advertising is here to stay. We are bombarded with it everywhere. If the Cubs are going to move ahead, they’ve got to take advantage of the same revenue streams as the other teams. If a jumbotron is what it takes to do that, bring it on.

  8. guy

    I guess I’m just a purist who doesn’t really want a jumbotron. I’ve been to half the parks in baseball, and honestly I don’t miss having a jumbotron even a tiny bit when I’m at Wrigley. It’s peaceful not to be assaulted by the noise and flashy images all the time.

    Regarding the funding, how is this a good thing? The public loses money* by giving a billionaire family $150 million, and fans get to “enjoy” extra advertising and the ruination of many of the things that make Wrigley special?

    *Yes, I realize that the city may earn extra money as a result of higher Cubs tickets revenue that are dependent on Wrigley’s renovation. But the truth is, the Cubs will go ahead and renovate even if they don’t get money from public coffers – they may say they won’t because they want that money, but they will. So the real comparison isn’t current Cubs amusement tax revenue vs (future Cubs amusement tax revenue – $150mm); it’s future Cubs amusement tax revenue vs (future Cubs amusement tax revenue – $150mm). That’s a loser for everyone whose last name isn’t Ricketts.

    Meanwhile, my parents’ pension is being threatened because of the budget shortfall but we’re seriously contemplating just giving millions of dollars to rich people? How is the not complete BS?

    1. Cedlandrum

      It isn’t just giving money to rich people. Most of that money comes from the sales of cubs tickets.

      1. Pat

        But here’s the thing. Why not just add a surcharge to each ticket? By trying to raise money by keeping increases in the amusement tax collected, you are raising prices 8x more than if you just had the surcharge.

        The tax rate isn’t going up, and tickets have still sold to at least 90% of capacity, so there’s not much room for growth there. The only way the proceeds from the amusement tax increase is if the cost of the tickets increase. That’s fine as the renovations need to be done.

        However, to get and addional dollar per seat of amusement tax, you have to raise the ticket price $8. How is that a better deal for the fan than a surcharge? Oh, and that $8 average increase just netted an additional 3.3 million in amusement tax. That’s not going to cut it, so it more likely means a $16 – $24 per ticket increase (as opposed to $2-3 dollar surcharge. By the time the city gets back to even on the 150 million they loaned, Ricketts has an additional 1.2 billion in his pocket.

        I don’t see how this is a good deal for anyone other than Ricketts.

    2. Wilbur

      I respect your opinion, but to be accurate your parents, and my pension, funding concerns are due to over thirty years of consistent under funding by our local and state legislators.

      I’ll go on to concede that if $150m were put into additional retirement funding then the problem would be that much smaller. However, that $150m hardly ripples the pond. Again, not a good argument to give the funding to the Cubs, but my point is its also not a good argument not to give the funding to the Cubs.

      1. Pat

        Actually, being broke is probably the best reason for not needlessly spending money.

        1. Wilbur

          Agreed, while I want to see things improve around Wrigley for the Cubs, I have trouble justifying this from my usual “shouldn’t government be smaller” perspective.

          The only thing makes me lean toward government financing in this case is its parallel with tax incremental funding (tif) districts that redirect the marginal increase in local taxes due to new capital improvements into a fund that is used for a portion of the expense of new capital improvement projects.within the specified district/neighborhood.

          Logic behind tif’s being that in this case as you make Wrigley and the immediate streets around it more valuable due to upgrades and expansion you also raise the value of most of Wrigleyville. This increased value of Wrigleyville then becomes new government revenue in the form of higher real estate taxes from everyone in the Wrigleyville area as their property is now worth more.

          Local taxpayers gain as their resale is higher business expands. Government gains due to increased real estate revenue and likely higher sales taxes.

  9. brittney

    I would be ok with the jumbotron as long as the scoreboard stays. That scoreboard is just the like the ivy, the bleachers, the brick behind the ivy. That’s part of the huge history/tradition to wrigley! I will be pretty mad about losing the scoreboard! How bout they put that jumbotron in left field! Have it some way extend above the seating.

  10. aCubsFan

    Since when did the City of Chicago ever treat any other privately owned business like they do the Cubs? In one breathe they believe the Cubs should do all the renovations as any other private business, but at the same time they believe Wrigley Field belongs to the civic community and tag it with landmark status — limiting their ability to make changes to the ballpark while having the owners of the rooftop clubs in their back pockets.

    Where was that landmark status for many of those old buildings that were torn down around the city?

    Where was the outcry when Reinsdorf held the city and state hostage? Where’s the outcry as Reinsdorf operates basically rent free on the backs of the residents of the state? Why are Reinsdorf, the Writz family and the McCaskey family, as a private business owners, treated differently than the Cubs?

    1. Cubbie Blues

      For the most part I agree with you thoughts. A couple of things though. The Tribune Company requested the Landmark status. Cominsky Park I believe is owned by the state (or is it the city).

      1. aCubsFan

        In 2001, when the Cubs presented a proposal to add bleachers and make other modifications to the ball park a drum beat was started by the neighbors, the roof top building owners and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to impose landmark status on Wrigley Field. You can find numerous articles about the imposition of the limited landmark status. The articles clearly state that the Cubs and Major League Baseball were opposed to granting of any landmark status. Here are links to two of the articles http://www.landmarks.org/preservation_news_archive_wrigley_2.htm and http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1546&context=elr

        This is a quote from Cubs.com about the landmark status. “The Cubs did not support landmark designation for Wrigley Field because of the restrictions it would place on any improvements the team needed to make. Tunney told City News Service that the team did not oppose the proposal for landmark status for the stadium’s historic features.”

    2. Pat

      The State owns the Cell, and charges rent. The State also owns Soldier Field, and again they charge rent.

      1. aCubsFan

        Yes, the Bears pay rent. Yes, the White Sox pay rent, but there have been several articles on the fact that Reinsdorf pays little to no rent based on the agreement that was made when he held the state hostage. This is a quote from a 2011 Chicago Tribune article “pay a seemingly modest $1.5 million annually to the ISFA, which works out to about $18,000 per game or $0.75 per fan who passed through the turnstiles this season.” Here’s another link to a similar article in the Suntimes. http://www.suntimes.com/8416814-417/emil-jones-white-sox-may-need-to-pay-higher-rent.html

        Crain’s Chicago Business has an excellent article about how sweet of a deal Reinsdorf has with the state. http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20111026/NEWS02/111029790/reinsdorfs-sweet-deal-at-u-s-cellular-field-gets-even-sweeter

  11. ISU Birds

    300 million dollars??? How much would a brand new ballpark cost?

    1. Cubbie Blues

      The Marlins new stadium cost $515 million. That is probably a good estimate plus a little more (and all the PR nightmare any management could handle (and then some)).

    2. brittney

      If they even suggested building a new ballpark and moving the cubs, the fan base would easily be cut in half. Wrigley itself is part of being a fan. I fly to chicago for the wrigley expierence as well as being a fan. But sitting in the bleachers (which start to hurt my tail after about inning 4) having an old style (or 10), with a good ole chicago style hot dog while being surrounded by such rich history/tradition is such an amazing part of being a cub fan! Screw the buildings across the street if that means keeping the scoreboard and adding a jumbotron!

  12. cubsin

    If I owned the Cubs, I’d be looking for land in the northern suburbs with good highway access so fast it’d make you head spin. I’d have night games whenever I wanted, more seats to sell, more advertising revenue and lower taxes.

  13. Pat

    What would you then do with Wrigley? You can’t tear it down. I can’t imagine wanting to pay the real estate taxes and not get any use out of it.

    1. Cubmig

      “What would you then do with Wrigley? You can’t tear it down. I can’t imagine wanting to pay the real estate taxes and not get any use out of it.”

      Thanks for the opening Pat.

      The whole adverti$ing invasion being advocated is not going to solve the Cubs’ problem of putting a better product on the field (as has been mentioned). That will be done by those in charge of recognizing and signing talent. Then it’s up to the players themselves to deliver…..and they don’t have to come at costs that are (as we’ve seen) prohibitive or obscene. I dare say that if the Cubs were a winning ball club with a sustained win record, all this talk of destroying the face of Wrigley Field would never be taking place. But because we have lived and breathe “failure” under failed leadership, somehow some see the physical plant as the means for remedying the failure of people. Interesting.

      Will more money enable the front office to produce a winning ball club and tradition? That is the question we ought to be talking about. Is dismantling the Wrigley Field we know and love worth the risk of the uncertainties that question leaves unanswered? To both these question, I say “no”.

      It would be better to do what another has suggested and build a new ball park. Do whatever the money-starved think will sate their craving. Billboard the shit out of every available space in the new place to sell to the highest bidder. If you lose (as someone else has said) 50% of Cubs fan attendance, for abandoning Wrigley, so what. Let “them” breed a new fan base; one that does not care about intrusions into the experience of watching a game, or of surrendering their individual spontaneity to the pulsed cues of LCD screens. The new fan base would be a not so silent tribute to Pavlov.

      As for what to do with the abandoned Wrigley Field, I say turn it into a living museum; one to be experienced by organized baseball’s youth teams. Like blood, the tradition of how and where Baseball was once played will continue to have a way of running through the veins of generations yet to come.

  14. Jon

    Agreed. Put the jumobotron on a rooftop

  15. Curt

    Def the way to go that will get the least fight from governmental agencies I do hope the jumbo tron stays away that would really ruin the ballparks elegance and nostalgic feel , I know everyone wants to win but at least not that.

  16. Cub Gone Wild

    what about building a super structure above the existing scoreboard and add the jumbo tron above the existing score board. With the proper engineering it might look pretty cool above the existing score board.

  17. Ralph

    PAT – what would Cubsin do with an empty Wrigley Field – I would recommend that he turn it into a homeless shelter and let the homeless camp on the infield and the outfield. That way the neighbors can get what they deserve.

  18. Adam

    I would hate to many changes but it might be about time

  19. Rich

    Screw change — what are u people, crazy? Wrigley is the only real baseball stadium left in MLB.

  20. Jughead

    can’t keep living in the past.

  21. arta

    Ditto.