Chicago Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the Cubs and then the media today, and discussed a range of topics of interest (about which, more later), including the status of the Wrigley Field renovation.
Ricketts was optimistic that the organization’s conversations with City Hall were going well, and that the two sides were making progress in coming together on a plan that will relax restrictions enough to result in a renovated Wrigley Field, paid for by added Cubs revenue streams.
“The way it’s looking now, hopefully we can get it through, what we have to do, in the next few weeks,” Ricketts told the media, including the Tribune. “That’ll be plenty of time to get us ready for the off-season [construction].”
Ricketts added, however, that whatever comes in the next few weeks, it won’t include approvals for additional night games during the 2013 season. The Cubs had hoped to gain approval for additional night games last week, theoretically in time for MLB to change a few scheduled start times. While there are always two sides to every story, it sounds like the Mayor and Alderman Tom Tunney, who represents the neighborhood in which Wrigley sits, scuttled that plan.
Ricketts also said that they don’t expect their current discussions to result in new ad signage at Wrigley Field during the 2013 season.
So what are the Cubs looking for in the next few weeks, then, if not hurried approvals for night games and signage during the 2013 season? Well, at a minimum, the approvals necessary to make their construction plans. Because of the restrictions imposed on Wrigley Field, the Cubs will need certain – hopefully perfunctory – approvals from the Landmarks Commission and City Council to set the renovation wheels in motion. The Cubs plan to begin work with their massively outdated clubhouse, for example, as soon as this Fall.
But I don’t think any of those approvals are going to be an issue (if they are ultimately necessary at all). Everyone involved wants the end of this process to be a beautifully, functionally renovated Wrigley Field. The trick is the money.
I’ve got to believe that what the Cubs are looking for is a guarantee that they are going to have their sought-after funding mechanisms – ad signage, more night games, more concerts, and street fairs – available to them at some point in the future. Even if those mechanisms don’t kick in for this season, as Ricketts indicated they would not, the Cubs will at least want to know those mechanisms are coming before the Ricketts Family starts writing checks, and before the Cubs start serious work on Wrigley. (And who can blame them? It is important to always keep in mind: the Cubs are simply trying to operate their business as any other team would be permitted to do, in order to pay for these renovations (which will generate jobs and dollars for the City) themselves.)
The issue there, of course, is the Mayor’s push for a “comprehensive plan” before the Cubs can get the approvals they need to move forward with the work. That likely means an agreement with the Wrigleyville rooftops, and an understanding with the neighborhood about what additional “contributions” the Cubs will be making (plus plans for the Triangle property). How can the Cubs make those kind of agreements before they know what level of funding support they’re going to be able to secure? I guess that’s their problem, and it doesn’t seem to be one that anyone outside of Clark and Addison is willing to help them solve.
In the end, I still believe the Mayor has too much to lose by not letting the Cubs “pay their own way” on these renovations. While he is interested in seeing the other constituencies – the rooftops, the neighborhood, Alderman Tunney, the City – happy at the end of this process, he knows that a renovated Wrigley Field, paid for by the Ricketts Family, is a tremendous feather in his cap. And, from the Cubs’ perspective, they are willing to work with the Mayor as necessary, because these funding mechanisms will, themselves, generate added revenue long after the renovation is paid for and completed. In other words, the Cubs, too, have an incentive to play nice.