I don’t really know what’s going on with the Wrigley Field renovation hold-up right now. That’s where I was last Friday after some interesting comments from Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney at a season ticket holder event, and I was hoping the ensuing days would provide some clarity. They have not. So I’ll just dump the info on you, and wrap it up with a standard, “I guess we’ll see what happens.”
At the aforementioned event, Kenney, in response to a fan request for a candid explanation of what’s holding up the renovation right now, didn’t really provide a clear response. But, interestingly, he did not focus on the rooftops, which are believed by most to be the final impediment to getting shovels in the ground (the Cubs have repeated many times that they will not start work until they’ve got some kind of assurance in place that the rooftops will not sue to block the construction, because of a couple outfield signs (which, incidentally, are a huge part of the funding for the renovation)). Instead, Kenney described some recent legislative movements, the purpose of which has been to update the renovation plan as it was previously approved by City Council.
Those legislative issues are tied to a variety of small changes to the renovation plan, and one relatively major change: the outfield walls will be bumped out further than previously approved. Because of that change, the Cubs had to go back through the full planned development process, and then get approval from City Council (which is expected to come without any fight, as it is strongly backed by Mayor Emanuel). The Cubs have already received approval from the Landmarks Commission for the additional wall bump-out, and the legislative process continues unabated.
Kenney spoke as though this legislative process was the last remaining step before the Cubs get to work, although he did intermittently reference an ongoing dispute with the rooftops. It was, to be frank, a little confusing. It is true that the Cubs can’t start the major work until they have the final approval on these changes to the original renovation plan, but, if that was all that was holding things up, we’d have heard about it a long time ago (because the Cubs would be trumpeting the impending work from, no pun intend, the rooftops).
Instead, it seems like the ongoing negotiations/battle with the rooftops remains the holdup. To that end, the Sun-Times reported this week that the Cubs remain in discussions with the rooftops in the hopes of avoiding a lawsuit. Apparently, the Cubs have had positive discussions with “some” of the rooftops (perhaps the majority that aren’t being blocked?), and something short of that with the rest of the rooftops. You can read the Sun-Times report for the precise quotes from Cubs General Counsel (aka top lawyer) Mike Lufrano, who has been very involved throughout the renovation process. There isn’t a ton to parse, because, like Kenney, he’s not quite giving up the details.
I should point out that I’m not necessarily complaining about not having pristine, candid, thorough details about the status of these discussions with the rooftops. Usually, when business people and lawyers are doing verbal backflips to avoid committing to anything specific, there’s a good reason. It tells me that the discussions are ongoing, and no one wants to muck anything up while there’s still a chance for an amicable resolution. In that same vein, I have generally regarded the last couple months of relative silence to be a good sign. If discussions had broken down rapidly, there would have been a lot more anonymous venom in the media, as there was earlier this year.
I guess we’ll see what happens.
(Aside: yes, I am aware that the Braves recently announced plans to leave 15-year-old Turner Field (egads, how did they ever make it work in such an ancient park!?) in favor of a publicly-funded, suburban park. No, I am not interested in comparing that situation to the situation with the Cubs, for reasons geographic and ballpark-value. Being in downtown Atlanta is not nearly the same thing as being in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. And the difference in ticket sales geography is nuts. The Braves are simply moving to where all their fans are.)