Today, the Chicago Cubs, by way of team owner and chairman Tom Ricketts, made an incredibly significant announcement: their plan to renovate Wrigley Field and to develop the surrounding area is moving forward, as of today.
In a pre-produced video, Tom Ricketts speaks at various locations throughout Wrigley Field, discussing the need to renovate the ballpark, the history of the renovation plan, the approvals by the city, the fighting with the rooftops that held up the renovation until now, and the next steps. The video is available at WrigleyField.com, and was also released to MLB.com:
The emphasis early on in the video is very heavy on the things that are needed to get the Cubs’ player facilities up to the standard of other big league teams. Ricketts speaks fairly approvingly of the city throughout (while noting that the Cubs are not receiving the kinds of public incentives that are typical for projects of this size), and underscores that the renovation is necessary to preserve and improve the park for fans, and to provide additional revenue for the front office. Mostly, it’s things we’ve heard, albeit in a compact, straightforward way.
Ricketts then shifts to the lingering issue: the rooftops.
Ricketts explains that, unfortunately, after a couple years of discussion and securing the necessary public permissions to move forward, the Cubs are “back to square one” in their negotiations with the owners of the buildings that outline the Wrigley Field outfield. Ricketts hits hard to differences between what other teams can do with their outfield (i.e., advertising signage) and what the Cubs can do, and emphasizes that the Cubs reduced their outfield signage plan to just the one right field sign, and the JumboTron in left, despite being approved for more by the city.
It has become clear, Ricketts says in the video, that the rooftops plan to sue to stop the renovation.
“We’ve spent endless hours negotiating with the rooftop businesses. We’ve gotten nowhere in our talks with them to settle this dispute. It has to end. It’s time to move forward. I have to put the team and the fans first. So, today, we are going forward with our original plan.”
That would be the sound of the gauntlet hitting the ground, in case you were wondering.
What happens now? Well, obviously the good news is that the renovation will move forward. And it appears that the Cubs will be moving forward with a plan that is less catered to appeasing the rooftops, and more catered to getting the things that the Cubs wanted all along (i.e., more outfield signs, more outfield expansion, etc.). They’ll submit that plan to the city for approval, and they’ll probably be staring down the rooftops as they do it. Weren’t OK with two signs, the Cubs could be saying? Well, how about more? (You do wonder, if the Cubs need significant additional approvals from the city for a revised plan, will that be yet another battle? Or is the city/mayor sufficiently fed up and on board with moving forward that the Cubs already know they can get this revised plan through?)
What’s unclear is, if this really does lead to lawsuits, will those suits plausibly have the ability to halt construction work while the suit is pending (because large business suits like this can take upwards of a couple years), or will the suits merely be about potential damages? In either case, publicly deciding to move forward could be yet another pressure point in negotiations, even if those talks have broken down. That’s particularly true of the Cubs are planning to expand what they’ll be doing in the renovation. Talks probably aren’t over in any case: once lawsuits are filed, sides are frequently compelled – either explicitly by the court, or implicitly by their own desire for a positive outcome – to negotiate a settlement.
As you know, the basis for a lawsuit would be the contract between the Cubs and rooftops that provides for the right to sell tickets for patrons to look into Wrigley Field in exchange for a share of the rooftop revenue. That contract has been, in part, leaked, and it does tend to look good for the Cubs. In short, any expansion of Wrigley Field that was approved by the city cannot be a violation of the contract, even if it partially obstructs views into the ballpark. There’s probably more to it than that – there always is – but that’ll be fleshed out over months and months of litigation, if it comes to that.
If nothing else, presenting the decision to move forward in this way is probably going to be a huge PR win for the Cubs. They are saying that, whatever happens, they’re willing to eat the pain of a lawsuit to get this thing going.
For now, I applaud the gumption there, even as I am nervous about an uncertain legal process in the future. You just try to avoid entering the courts if at all possible, but, according to Ricketts, that’s precisely what they tried to do.
It goes without saying, but there will be much, much more on this in the days and weeks to come.