There are reasons to suspect that, when Tom Ricketts announced an agreement with the Chicago Athletic Club to put a state-of-the-art exercise facility into the hotel that the Ricketts Family plans to build across from Wrigley Field, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wasn’t too happy about the Ricketts trying to apply public pressure. The day after the announcement, Mayor Emanuel summoned Ricketts and Wrigleyville Alderman Tom Tunney to a meeting at City Hall. I think it’s a fair guess that the Mayor doesn’t want this fight to continue to play out in the media (that ship has sailed, Mr. Mayor – see, for example, the second half of this post), and he’d like to see all sides coming to a swift, private conclusion.
So you can imagine Tom Ricketts’ possible discomfort when facing the media yesterday as he and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith talked up the new Spring Training facility, paid for in large part by the people of Mesa. He knew the Wrigley Field renovation questions were coming. He knew the parallels to the Spring facility were coming. I wonder if there were a dozen conflicting inputs swirling in his head as he had to try and figure out the right things to say.
I think he probably did the best he could.
“There’s a handful of issues left and we’re working them out with the Alderman and working them out with the Mayor,” Ricketts told the media when asked about the renovation situation. “If we’re going to be in the ground in October, we have to get some resolution in the next few weeks.”
This tentative time line has been the Ricketts’ position since they offered to fund the renovation themselves, back in January. In return, the Ricketts ask that various restrictions on their use of Wrigley Field be lifted, so that they can make the additional revenues necessary to fund the renovation. And the Ricketts family won’t start signing checks for the renovation until they know for certain they’re going to have those funding mechanisms – increased ad signage, more night games, more concerts, and street fairs – available to them.
“Before we green light the project, we want to know what the deal is,” Ricketts said. “What we said in January was that we’ll pay for the project, but we also need to have control of our ballpark and that’s still our position.”
Again, nothing new, and still quite reasonable.
But Ricketts couldn’t help but re-apply just a tiny bit of public pressure, and I can’t say I blame him.
“It’s an incredible project for the city [of Chicago] in terms of the number of jobs we create – the 2,100 jobs we create – the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, the tax dollars created, and of course, just the general economic activity that comes with tourist coming to Wrigley. The incentives are there. I think we’ll get there.”
Even if Ricketts had said nothing at all, the Wrigley renovation story was going to be in the national conversation yesterday anyway, thanks to a quintessentially Rick Reilly piece published on ESPN.com.
In the overwrought way only he can pull off (or not, depending on your bent), Reilly laments the many ways the Cubs are losing money by playing in Wrigley Field – particularly in its current state. Reilly takes a club to the rooftop owners (whom Reilly calls “leeches,” protected by the City), the City (“Fine, if they’re a city treasure, then the city should help support them, the way it did for this summer’s 30th anniversary of the Chicago Blues Festival, which received a $15,000 grant. The Cubs pay 12 percent city ‘amusement’ tax on every ticket … and yet the city doesn’t give them a dime. Very unamusing.”), and the neighborhood (for fighting the Cubs’ desire to have more night games).
The article, which reads like it was pitched directly from the Cubs, is the most strongly-worded support of the current Ricketts funding plan I’ve seen. As I’ve said before, I tend to think there’s a great deal behind the scenes to which we’ll never be privy – which is to say, I’m sure the reality is that Tunney and the Mayor aren’t simply villainous caricatures, twisting their mustaches – but I can’t take too much issue with what Reilly says. His financial estimates can mostly be ignored, and he’s a bit too harsh on the rooftops, but, for the most part, he captures the uniquely unfair position the Cubs’ stadium puts them in (at least relative to other large market teams with a ballpark that should otherwise be a great draw).
At bottom, I’m just glad Reilly wrote the piece, and is helping keep this story in the national consciousness. I believe the Ricketts Family has bent considerably to get this deal done (and it’s so, so, so (so!) critical to the future of the Cubs), and continued national attention – particularly of the kind Reilly is giving – can only help spur the City, the Alderman, and the neighborhood to do some bending of their own.[Disclosure: Some of the rooftops advertise on BN, but that has not affected how I cover this ongoing story.]