Some of you noticed that I didn’t leap to discuss the “new” rooftop lawsuit yesterday, and that’s largely because it really isn’t a new lawsuit. It’s more of a modification of the already-filed lawsuit.
In case you didn’t know or didn’t remember, some of the rooftops sued the City in August about the decision to allow outfield signage as part of the Wrigley renovation, and then this week essentially amended that complaint to include additional allegations about the December decision to move the outfield signage, and to seek review of the Landmarks Commission’s approval of that signage plan. The Cubs reduced and reorganized the outfield signage in response to concerns from the National Parks Service, which controls whether the Cubs can get upwards of $75 million in historic preservation tax credits for preserving Wrigley Field.
The new complaint, incorporating all of the previous allegations, also now alleges that the Cubs’ modifications of the signage plan late last year weren’t actually about getting the $75 million in federal tax credits, but were instead designed to move the signs so that they no longer block rooftops that the Cubs/Ricketts have agreed to purchase*, and now block rooftops that refused to sell. Just as with the original complaint, you can never know for sure where these things land, but it doesn’t look terribly strong (you can see a copy here at Crain’s). Thus, there’s not a ton that the new complaint adds to the lawsuit situation here.
Which is all to say I’m not really any more or less concerned than I was when the suit was originally filed in August. That link there has a much deeper dive on this lawsuit, and why it could take a lot of time to shake out (here were are in January with relatively little movement, and it was filed in August). If you’re interested in this topic, that’s the post to read (while keeping in your mind the mental update that the Cubs did, indeed, proceed with the renovation work thereafter), because this post is just a very cursory take on the new allegations. On to those …
On their face, I have a tough time buying the new allegations. Although it may well be true that moving the signs had a negative impact on some rooftops and a positive impact on others, you can’t deny that the view looking out from Wrigley (which was the National Parks Service’s concern) was improved pretty dramatically by the increased spacing of the signs, the removal of one sign, and the reduction and movement of the right field video board all the way over to the line. Plus, there’s the fact that the Parks Service did sign off on the Cubs’ modifications, which were developed while working together with the Parks Service. So, the Parks Service, at least, appears to have believed the Cubs were making the changes to get the historic preservation tax credits, not to screw any rooftops.
Further, the Cubs flat-out removed one of the revenue-generating signs in order to increase the space between advertising signage and The Old Scoreboard. Did doing things like that, and relocating the other signs have an incidental impact on the rooftops? Sure. That was a natural consequence of any changes. And, yes, let’s be honest: all things equal, it’s not like the Cubs were going to go out of their way to block rooftops they/the Ricketts might be buying. But even if the Cubs selected locations for the signage that benefit some rooftops, that doesn’t mean the Cubs/the Ricketts did anything in bad faith, because they had to move the signage anyway to get the federal tax credits.
The rooftops, by the way, once again declined to add the Cubs as a defendant, even though the new allegations appear to be almost entirely about the Cubs. The decision there is almost certainly a strategic one, aimed either to avoid the arbitration clause in the Cubs/rooftop contract, or to try and prevent the Cubs from litigating their position fully (or some other reason – which sounds like a copout, but you can’t always tell the reasons for legal decisions without being pretty deeply immersed in the case).
And more from the department of hedging: don’t mistake my tone here for supreme confidence that this can’t all go sideways. Litigation is inherently unpredictable, especially by those of us who aren’t deeply involved on the inside of the case.
*(Reports indicate that it’s the Ricketts Family, not the Cubs entity, buying rooftops, but, because the complaint alleges that the Cubs entity has been buying and seeking to buy rooftops, I’ve discussed the Cubs and Ricketts Family together, even though that’s technically not correct.)