Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he’s ready to play ball now that the Cubs have offered to bankroll a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field without a taxpayer subsidy — and the first pitch could come as early as next month with an ordinance authorizing more night games.
“I asked all the parties involved to finish this up,” said Emanuel, who had a productive conversation with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts this week, their first since the pre-election controversy over the conservative politics of Ricketts’ billionaire father, Joe.
“We’re at a point where there will be no taxpayer subsidies for a private entity. That said, Wrigley is important to the neighborhood and to the city … and I want to ensure that it continues. … We all have a stake in getting it done. It is not done until all the parts fall in place. ... There are 1,200 jobs at stake in building and refurbishing Wrigley.”
City Hall sources said the mayor is prepared to lift the 30-game-per-season ceiling on the number of night games to the 37-to-44 range, with some of the dates reserved for concerts. Additional 3:05 p.m. starts could also be part of the mix.
The night game piece must come first because of the scheduling demands of Major League Baseball.
That will be followed by a move to lift the restrictions on outfield signs and open Sheffield Avenue for street fairs on game days, but probably not every game as the Cubs have requested.
Sources said Emanuel is trying to broker an elusive agreement between the Cubs and the owners of 17 rooftop clubs overlooking Wrigley that could pave the way for at least some of the new signs to be placed on top of the rooftops, instead of inside the stadium blocking the rooftops’ bird’s-eye view.
To appease club owners who have invested millions to meet city standards, sources said the mayor’s office is prepared to support giving the rooftops “a little bit” of the advertising revenue from new signs.
The compromise could also extend under the same terms an agreement with ten more years to run that requires the rooftops to share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs. Additional capacity beyond the current, 200-seats-per-club limit, is also a possibility.
So far, the rooftops have adopted a hard line, emboldened by local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who has received at least $171,356 in direct campaign contributions from rooftop club owners and another $15,675 to the alderman’s 44th Ward Democratic Organization.
But, sources said time is running out for the rooftops to get on board.
“We’re not trying to screw them at all. But, we’ve seen this movie before,” said a City Hall source familiar with the negotiations.
“They like delay and the status quo. But, the ship is sailing. You need to find a way to be a constructive partner. There’s no reason why this can’t get done in a matter of weeks. [But, if it doesn’t], I don’t think the rooftops will appreciate the alternative.”
Pressed on whether City Hall was prepared to side with the Cubs over the rooftops and Tunney, the City Hall source said, “We are, but I don’t think it’ll come to that. There is a path to give both sides what they’re looking for.”
Tunney issued a statement saying “no formal, final plan has been presented to me,” but he reiterated that his priorities include a 10-year extension of an ordinance that would include limits on night games and concerts, “a dedicated police detail unit for all Wrigley events,”street and traffic infrastructure improvements, limits on Sheffield or Waveland closures for Cubs street festivals, a long-term agreement between the Cubs and the rooftop owners over advertising inside and outside the ballpark.
He also called for development of the so-called Triangle building and plaza on Clark Street north of Addison. “This development should include space for public and community events like farmer’s markets and ice skating,” he said.
“The Cubs say they no longer are committed to building the parking structure they agreed to build in return for approval of stadium expansion in 2005,” Tunney said. “But, as a condition of allowing renovations at Wrigley Field, a strong majority of residents support requiring Wrigley Field to use neighboring land owned by the Cubs to provide parking for at least twenty percent of their capacity, such as building a multi-story parking garage.
“The positions I have taken in my discussions with the Cubs closely mirror those of my constituents. All of us involved in the negotiations should be concentrating our efforts on a plan that takes all of Wrigley Field’s and Lakeview’s unique qualities into perspective.”
Rooftop owners adamantly opposed to the Cubs’ plan refused to comment.
Last weekend, Ricketts abruptly ended his multi-year quest for a public subsidy to help bankroll a sorely-needed renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley.
He offered to go it alone — and build a $200 million hotel development on McDonald’s property across the street from the stadium — provided the city lift restrictions on outfield signs and night games and opens Sheffield Avenue for street fairs on game days.
The Cubs’ offer was music to the mayor’s ears.
“When I first started this discussion, the Cubs wanted 200 million in taxpayer dollars. I said, `no.’ Then, they said they said we’d like 150 million taxpayer dollars and I said, ‘no.’ Then, they asked if they could have 100 million dollars in taxpayer subsidies and I said ‘no.’ Then, they asked about 55 million dollars in taxpayer subsidies. I said ‘no.’ The good news is after fifteen months, they’ve heard the word, ‘no,’” the mayor said Wednesday.
Emanuel refused to say whether he was willing to give the Cubs carte blanche to put up revenue-generating signs — even if it means blocking the bird’s-eye views of rooftop clubs.
Asked whether Tunney deserves “veto power,” the mayor said, “Tom and I have been working on this for over a year. ... Tom has been a constructive and productive person in the negotiations. But he, too, will agree it’s important to see this through to the end.”
Ricketts was thrilled with the mayor’s response. After years of swinging and missing, he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“The Ricketts family shares the mayor’s vision for a $500 million project to create 1,200 new jobs and hundreds of construction jobs,” said Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for the billionaire family that owns the Cubs.
“We look forward to working with the mayor and the city of Chicago to save Wrigley Field, build a new hotel [on McDonald’s property across the street from the stadium] and boost tourism. A Wrigley renovation not only preserves a great tourist attract. It will provide important new resources for the baseball operation to build a championship team.”
Earlier this week, Tunney said he was willing to help the Cubs with additional night games “sooner than required” by an agreement that expires in 2016.
But, he said, “I’m not a supporter of putting up signs that block the view of rooftops into the ballpark.”
The aldermen then referred to the laundry list of requests that Tom Ricketts made at last weekend’s the Cubs convention.
“What is he offering the community? That would be the question. More of this. More of that. More of everything. But, what about the community and what is the parking plan” now that the Cubs have scrapped a so-called “triangle” building that was supposed to a include a 400-space parking garage, Tunney said.
Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, echoed the alderman’s sentiments in a statement that called the rooftops “a fabric of the experience” at Wrigley.
“Any relaxation of the landmark ordinance that blocks our views violates our current 20-year contract with the Cubs and would jeopardize the tremendous economic contribution rooftops make to Chicago as businesses, taxpayers and members of the community. Destroying one business to benefit the other shouldn’t be the answer — we believe a better solution exists,” she said.