With a not-quite deadline approaching next Friday to get a Wrigley Field renovation deal approved in the General Assembly, you can understand why news on the public financing piece of a Wrigley renovation is hitting the front page every day.
First, from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who finally said something positive about the process since last week’s Joe Ricketts/President Obama/Proposed Attack Ad flap. The Mayor indicated to the Sun-Times that the controversy will not sabotage the funding process, and he feels like “the point has been made.” He said the two sides haven’t yet spoken, but that they will at “the appropriate time.”
Second, Chicago Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts stopped by the Score this morning, and offered a long interview on the Mully and Hanley Show. Among the very interesting highlights (all paraphrased – so, although there are no quotation marks, where I said things like “we” and “I,” that’s Ricketts talking, not me, Brett):
- On the political flap, we have had good discussions going over past few months, but nothing was finalized. We need to get something in place that works for everyone and get it behind us. Joe Ricketts is not involved in the Cubs at all, is not on the Board, and comes to maybe one game every other year. The funds to buy the team were, in part, from a family trust for the benefit of the siblings.
- I’m focused on the team and on Wrigley and on the city of Chicago. I want as many people as possible to understand the truth that the Cubs had nothing to do with the SuperPAC plan, that Joe is not involved with the Cubs, and that the Ricketts family would never support such a racially-insensitive proposal. The proposal was one of many, and it was not about to implemented. It was, in fact, rejected.
- The hosts felt like this was a point that was worth really emphasizing: the Cubs have unique problem when it comes to their stadium. Usually, either (1) the city owns the park and you pay a small fee to play there, plus taxes, plus there are regulations, or (2) the team owns the stadium, but doesn’t pay taxes, and doesn’t have a ton of regulations. The Cubs have it both ways: it’s a private place they have to pay to keep up, plus they’re taxed, plus they are regulated like crazy.
- “Why did you never threaten to have the Cubs leave Chicago?” We have good, thoughtful elected officials, who are willing to work through the issue, and I don’t know that a threat about leaving would have had any impact. We like to think that, as a team, and as a city, we’re above that kind of thing.
- As for deadline on getting this deal done, you keep working until you get something done. We’d like to get on it sooner rather than later, but these things take a long time, and require a whole lot of agreement. In other words, Ricketts wasn’t willing to say that having approval by next Friday was a real deadline.
- We’re more focused on working things out with the city than the State of Illinois. Eventually, we’ll have to talk to the State, but most of the issues we have to work through are with the city, and to some extent the county.
- Every time we pay a large tax or $5 to $10 million for stadium upkeep, that’s money that comes directly out of the baseball budget (Brett: I keep emphasizing this part, and this is why the Wrigley renovation issue and the public financing piece are so critical – they *directly* impact the product on the field). Every year, the Cubs start in the hole compared to other large market teams.
- Ricketts was asked a GREAT question about whether this political flap hurt the Cubs’ team on the field (on the theory that it delayed the renovation deal or cost the Cubs money), and Tom, in a round about way, said that it won’t hurt the Cubs as long as a good deal gets done where everyone wins. The obvious implication is, if the deal did get screwed up in some way – delayed or more expensive for the Cubs – then, yes, it could have hurt the actual product on the field in future seasons.
- (As an overall impression: it didn’t sound to me like he thinks there’s a real chance that things fall apart, or that there will be a substantial delay.)
All in all, it was an excellent interview, even if it was entirely spin control (not always a bad thing).
One interesting thing that occurred to me as I was listening: Ricketts previously said, after issuing a short statement denouncing the Obama attack ad proposal, he was going to have no more comments on this issue. Since then, he’s actually had LOTS of comments. Why? To me, it seems pretty obvious: he was pushed to get out there and clear things up by the politicians he needs to help him get this deal done. Those politicians don’t want to support a Wrigley renovation plan if their constituents and the media are going to crucify them for it (“how could you support giving the Cubs money when they’re just a bunch of anti-government, anti-handout, Obama-hating racists?”).
So, Ricketts is playing his part by trying to reiterate that the Cubs had nothing to do with the proposal, the Cubs are in a uniquely bad/unfair spot when it comes to stadium financing, and that getting a deal done still makes sense for both the Cubs and the city.