On City Council’s approval of the Wrigley Field renovation and development plan yesterday, my response was more of relief and guarded happiness, rather than all-out celebration. That relief and happiness was legitimate: the largest political hurdle in this process has been cleared, and if the last six months (hell, the last two and a half years) have demonstrated anything you didn’t already know, clearing political hurdles in Chicago is always something to relish.
The reason there was no all-out celebration yesterday, however, is that there are still things to work out. Important things. Difficult things. Rooftop-y things.
To wit: the Cubs are making certain emphasize that, although they now have the approvals necessary to proceed with the renovation, before they will order a single shovel, they need certainty about what’s going to happen with respect to the rooftop buildings. As you know, the rooftop buildings are home to businesses that sell tickets to watch Cubs games from their rooftops. Those business have a revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs, which lasts through the 2023 season, and which pays the Cubs 17% of the gross revenue the rooftops receive.
Those rooftops have opposed the Cubs’ efforts to erect outfield signs from the first suggestion of such signs earlier this year, for fear that the signs would put them out of business. Partly in deference to the rooftop partners, the Cubs agreed to put up only two signs at this time – a large video board in left field, and an advertising sign in right field – and agreed to strategically locate the signs so as impact the rooftops as little as possible. From there, the Cubs also agreed to “bump out” the outfield walls at Wrigley Field to further reduce the impact on rooftop sight lines, and even went to the lengths of testing the proposed signage with mock ups so that everyone could see just how much the views would be impacted.
By all appearances, the Cubs have done a great deal of accommodating throughout this process. And they are willing to do even more accommodating so long as they have certain assurances.
Contrary to earlier reports, the Cubs have not yet agreed to a 10-year moratorium on outfield signs beyond the two already-approved signs. Instead, the Cubs have offered that they will agree to such a moratorium only if the following conditions are met, as indicated in a statement by Tom Ricketts: no threat of litigation by the rooftops, the strict enforcement of existing rooftop ordinances by the City, and long-term certainty regarding the Cubs’ ability to control outfield signage.
In other words, if the Cubs are going to forgo any additional signs over the next 10 years (even though the Landmarks Commission has already approved a Master Sign Program that allows the Cubs to add additional signs), they want to know for certain that the rooftops won’t sue when the video board and right field sign are erected. The Cubs also want to know that current ordinances will be followed, and want to know that, after the 10-year moratorium, they will be able to operate their business as they see fit.
And, until these issues are resolved, the renovation will not begin.
I can understand the rooftops’ presumed position here. They’re fighting for the life of their business, and probably fear that the best offer they’re getting is a 10-year stay on death row, after which, the switch is flicked. When the future of your business is on the line, you fight. I get it.
And I would understand frustration by fans whose instinct is to say, “fine, the Cubs can’t put up the outfield signs yet, but they can start renovating the player facilities now. Why don’t they just start that?” You’re right. The Cubs technically could start those parts of the renovations immediately.
But, look at this this from the Ricketts Family’s perspective. After abandoning their request for public assistance in financing the renovation (assistance that would have come from the taxes imposed on Cubs tickets), the Ricketts Family offered to pay for the whole thing themselves so long as they were afforded the ability to generate new revenues to pay for the renovation. It wouldn’t make much sense for the Ricketts Family to now start writing checks for the renovation when two of the primary revenue-generators (the outfield signs) are imperiled by legal action. You can disagree with this position, but I can’t say it’s unreasonable. Even for the very wealthy, $500 million is a whole lot of money. And everyone has a budget.
The rooftop contract runs for 10 more years, and the Cubs are ostensibly working hard to ensure that the contract is fulfilled. Indeed, they have reportedly suggested a plan that would create an overhang over Sheffield – potentially even creating a pathway to the Red Line L stop behind the rooftops – to place the right field advertising sign so that it would not impact rooftop views on that side of the ballpark. There are logistical issues with the plan, including what compensation would be owed to the City, if any, for taking additional public space, and what public process such a plan would need to go through. It is likely one of many ideas, but it underscores the lengths to which the Cubs appear to be going to preserve the rooftops’ business while still serving the organization’s need for additional revenue.
Hopefully there’s some kind of compromise here.
The unnerving part? If the rooftop issues take too long to resolve, or if the modified right field sign plan takes too long to be approved, the Cubs could lose *another* year of construction. No one wants to see that happen, and, if it does, I’d think the Cubs would have to start considering alternative arrangements like looking into playing a season or two, or parts of seasons, away from Wrigley Field to speed up the renovation process once it begins. I doubt that would be very good for rooftop business, so it’s not as if the Cubs are the only entity with something to lose by a delay.
Yesterday’s City Council approval was very important, but it wasn’t the final step in getting the renovation underway. Much of the political wrangling is now over. Now it’s time for the business wrangling. Fingers are crossed.
Disclosure: BN previously had an advertising relationship with some of the rooftops. Neither that prior relationship, nor any subsequent change in the status of that relationship, has impacted the way I’ve covered this ongoing story.