Yesterday’s big reveal of the outfield signage for the Wrigley Field renovation plan (they say “restoration,” but I trade in words, and that isn’t the correct word here, however preferable it may be) was tied to the Chicago Cubs’ formal submission of the full renovation plan (discussed at lennnnngth here) to the Planned Development process. In other words, the plan is now out of the Cubs’ hands and into the public’s. Here we go.
- There will now be a month of meetings among neighborhood groups, city committees, etc. to discuss and vet the Cubs’ proposal (which, remember, was put together after months and months of negotiation with the Mayor’s Office and Alderman Tom Tunney). The stickiest parts are expected to be the size and location of the JumboTron, the number of night games, and the details of the hotel/plaza area west of the park.
- After that process, per Crain’s, the Cubs plan to go before the Landmarks Commission to get approval on June 6. At some point in June, the Cubs will go before the City Council license committee to get approval on the night game plan, before going before the Chicago Plan Commission on July 18 and the City Council zoning committee on July 19. If all has gone well to that point, the plan could be up for a full City Council vote in late July.
- Does that leave enough time to get the renovations underway immediately after the season so that the player facility upgrades – new clubhouse, batting tunnel, health facilities, etc. – can be in place for Opening Day 2014? Well, from the sound of things, yes, but just barely. Each of Theo Epstein and Dale Sveum essentially said that it depends on how long the approval process takes. Given that it’s up in the air, that means we haven’t already passed the date by which they’ve got to have approvals in place to get things going after the season. And if the above timeline is what the Cubs desire, then that tells me if things proceed according to that timeline, all will be well.
- During his presentation yesterday on the finalized plans and submission to the Planned Development process, Cubs Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts was asked what would happen if someone blocked their effort to put up outfield signs. That’s when his “threat to move” came out, the first time he’s ever publicly said anything about the Cubs leaving Wrigley Field. “I’m not sure how anyone is going to stop any signs in the outfield but if it comes to the point that we don’t have the ability to do what we need to do in the outfield then we are going to have to consider moving. It is as simple as that,” Ricketts said yesterday, per Dave Kaplan. Thereafter, Ricketts made sure to re-emphasize that no one is currently planning on leaving Wrigley, and the focus is still on getting this deal done. He kind of made it seem like he was just saying that if things get shut down, then, well, yeah, the Cubs would have to consider moving at that point, because duh. Ricketts Family Spokesman Dennis Culloton, in comments to the Sun-Times, explained Ricketts’ comments the same way – Ricketts was just saying what everyone is thinking.
- For his part, Mayor Emanuel was unfazed by the non-threat to move, emphasizing that the big picture stuff the Cubs need (including the outfield signage) has already been agreed to by the city. “There’s now certainty around what they needed: There will be a jumbotron in left field. There will be signage in right field. Things that they think are necessary. There will also be signage in the plaza. That’s why I wanted to do a framework and they wanted to do a framework so a lot of questions were answered prior to that,” Emanuel told the Sun-Times. “They also know from their own business sense how important Wrigley Field is to their business and how important Chicago is to their business. We worked out a number of those issues. So, this is about going forward into the planning process with big questions answered.” In other words, the Mayor ain’t scurred.
- To my ear, Ricketts’ off-the-cuff response was intended as a dart at the rooftops, as they would be the only ones potentially trying to block the outfield signage. To that end, Ricketts later emphasized that he didn’t think they’d have a legal leg to stand on (which could just be talk, but, hey, he’s seen the contract and we have not). “What we put out there today is kind of a blend of revenue opportunities and being respectful of the rooftops views,” Ricketts told Dave Kaplan in an interview that’s worth checking out. “So we think it’s really a fair compromise. We’ll talk to them in the next few days and there are a lot of things built specifically into the plan to minimize the impact on the views from the rooftops. So we’ll talk to them and try to work it out,” Ricketts said before saying he “absolutely” thought the Cubs would prevail in any lawsuit, and that “we think this [plan] is going to go forward.”
- Speaking of which, rooftop owner Beth Murphy, per CSN, said that it would be a bad business decision for the Cubs to move, and refused to say that a lawsuit was on the table. There are still things to be discussed, and the sides might yet work something out short of legal intervention.
- Bruce Miles asked Cubs VP of Communications Julian Green about Ricketts’ “move” comments, and he pretty much confirmed that it was just about the rooftops: “I think [using the word “threat” is] a little bit overstated. Basically what [Ricketts] is saying is if the rooftops want to go as far as to sue to keep us from making this investment and doing an investment we want to make without using tax dollars, if they want to hold that up, what he’s saying is we have to look at other options.” In other words: the Cubs want to place public pressure on the rooftops not to sue.
- Ricketts said he expects to meet with the rooftop owners about these plans in the next few days. I’m sure it will involve very detailed schematics on the sight lines from the rooftops into the park, after the addition of the JumboTron in left field and the new ad sign in right field. Although I’ve cautioned you repeatedly that lawsuits are unpredictable and no one can say with 100% confidence that a rooftop lawsuit would not derail this process, it is worth pointing out that, in my limited legal experience, the kind of lawsuit that seems to be developing here is a mere suit for breach of contract with the possibility of damages. It’s very hard to see a suit allowing the rooftops to block the renovations, even temporarily (because the rooftops, who have a contract that runs until 2024, can be made whole by paying them monetary damages). But, back to caveating: no one can say for certain. Lawsuits unpredictable. Hopefully things are worked out short of the courts.
- For whatever it’s worth, Jon Morosi tried to discern how the sight lines from the impacted rooftops would be affected by a scoreboard in left field, and he says it looks like everyone will still be able to see all of the infield and most of the outfield.
- Theo Epstein on the possibility of moving out of Wrigley Field, per Cubs.com: “Tom [Ricketts] loves Wrigley Field. He doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking about moving, he wakes up thinking about winning here. Winning does come first. We’re all committed to finding a way to make it work so we can win and act like a big market here. I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen. As he indicated today, you have to keep alternatives alive because this has been such a crazy process.”
- More neighborhood reactions to the plans from the Tribune.
- The night game thing is going to be tricky: you can understand why the City and neighborhood would like to know the *exact* maximum number of night games in a season, but you can also understand why the Cubs want flexibility (they won’t know in advance of the season how many night games MLB is going to ask them to have for national broadcasts, so the Cubs would have to underschedule night games and risk missing out on a bunch of night games if MLB doesn’t ask them to flip any day games). Green offered to Paul Sullivan a thought on why the City/neighborhood should want that flexibility, too: “We don’t want to be a in a box like that. We’d like to have the flexibility. Why? Because we believe if the Cubs are featured on national TV, it features Lakeview on national TV and the city of Chicago, which helps tourism and showcase the ballpark and the city.” An argument that only a communications/PR guy could come up with … but it’s actually a pretty good one.
- A random reminder on the night game piece of this timeline stuff: the reason the Cubs need to know about the night game change as soon as possible is because of the impending TV deal negotiations. No, the night games won’t be in place for this season, but the sooner the Cubs know they’ll have X number of night games regularly, they will be in a better negotiating position with respect to their TV rights (which are more valuable for night games than day games). The WGN deal, which includes about half of the Cubs’ games, expires after 2014, and the CSN deal (the other half) expires after 2019. It’s possible, though, that the Cubs might figure a way to renegotiate the whole lot after this season.
Disclosure: Some of the rooftops advertise on Bleacher Nation, but that has not impacted how I’ve covered this ongoing story.