Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs received their long-awaited approval from the Landmarks Commission on the revised plan to renovate and expand Wrigley Field. Although it wasn’t precisely what the Cubs sought, the did get approval on the bulk of what they were looking for – and, given that the whole thing had been vetted with the City over the course of the past couple months, that’s to be expected (I won’t call it “unsurprising,” though, because, you know, Chicago).
As you know, the Cubs took the “bigger outfield doors” thing off the table, but they will still be relocating the bullpens to the outfield. The seven outfield signs (two of which are video boards) were approved, but the Cubs had to bend slightly on the size, and spacing between the signs. The non-video signs cannot be billboards, but must be static LED or script signs.
Although I do think it remains to be seen just how quickly ground is broken on, for example, the triangle property to the west of the park, which is to become the plaza and subterranean clubhouse. But, during the hearing yesterday, Cubs President of Business Operations did say this:
Commissioner Mooney asks Crane for a timetable commitment on starting work. He says work will begin "immediately"
— Danny Ecker (@DannyEcker) July 10, 2014
And, in a message to Cubs fans after the approval, the Cubs said this:
Following the conclusion of the season, we will immediately begin the Budweiser Bleacher expansion and anticipate completing the installation of new seating, group terraces, outfield signs and lighting, including the new left field video board, by Opening Day 2015.
If things play out like that, then the Cubs may not have lost a ton of time and revenue through this year-long “delay.” For one thing, the Cubs have indicated that they can now get the renovation/development done in four years, rather than five – which was the original time table. For another thing, the Cubs said all last year that they weren’t sure they’d be able to have the JumboTron up in time for the 2014 season anyway (that’s one of the biggest revenue-generators), so there might be no lost time there. For still another thing, if the Cubs wind up putting up more signs than they would have last year, they could net more revenue than they would have without the delay in the first place.
Ah, but about those signs.
Now we find out what happens with respect to the negotiations with the rooftops. Per Mayor Emanuel’s proclamation, the Cubs must go back to the well and negotiate with the rooftops to try and find a peaceful solution short of litigation. The Cubs have indicated a willingness to proceed with the seven sign plan and ensuing lawsuit, however, so there shouldn’t be any lost renovation time, absent an injunction by a court (which seems unlikely, given that the damages in such a case could be settled with money, and the contract is subject to arbitration). But, obviously, you never know what can happen when things get legal.
So, more than likely, what we’ll see is the Cubs wielding their newfound leverage to hammer out a better (for the team) solution. Perhaps the Cubs keep all of the signs, but reduce the rooftop revenue share. Perhaps the Cubs agree to forestall a couple of the signs until after the contract expires in 2024. Perhaps the Cubs agree to the original two signs, but get an increased revenue share. Perhaps the Cubs get a better purchase price on some of the buildings now.
It’s hard to say where this goes, because there are so many possibilities now. The good news, from the Cubs’ perspective, is that they’ve got the approval they need, which makes the rooftops’ position that much tougher to sustain. Here’s hoping each side has long been planning for this possibility, and readied themselves with offers for once this approval came down (it’s not like it was a secret that it was going to go through). For their part, the rooftops responded to the approval by saying that they’re prepared to accept the two-sign plan, and hope to have a resolution in place soon.
The most important thing, from the fan perspective right now, is that the Cubs make good on their commitment to get the renovation started. I certainly understand and sympathize with the reticence to lay out enormous expenses with the threat of litigation hanging over their heads (which has the small potential to shut things down), but the Cubs have committed at this point. They’ve showed their hand with respect to the lawsuit – they feel good about their chances – and they’ve told the public that they’re ready to move forward as soon as this approval came.
Assuming the Cubs do now start work, how will that functionally look? Well, there are permits to secure (which isn’t quite as arduous as getting city/commission approval), so that’ll take some time. The Cubs indicated in their message to fans that they’ll soon start work on their surface parking lots, which includes the triangle property (i.e., the future plaza and Cubs clubhouse). That could happen before the season ends, and once that first shovel goes into the ground on that part, I’ll finally feel really good about where things stand.
As for the signs, while the Cubs said that they’ll be going up for the 2015 season, they do still have to secure well-paying partners for those signs, which could take a little time. I expect we’ll probably hear about that process periodically over the next several months – or at least I hope we do, because I find that stuff interesting (and it certainly matters to the Cubs’ financial future).