Cubs, Rooftop Owners Once Again at Impasse Over Wrigley Renovations

The Cubs' $300 million renovation is on hold as team tries to negotiate settlement

By James Neveau
|  Thursday, Jan 23, 2014  |  Updated 1:22 PM CDT
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Cubs, Rooftop Owners at Impasse

At Cubs Convention over the weekend, team officials had expressed optimism that the long-discussed $300 million renovation plan for Wrigley Field was nearing reality, as they said they were making “significant progress” in negotiations with the rooftop owners whose buildings overlook the ballpark.

On Wednesday, however, that progress hit a massive speedbump, as rooftop owners filed suit against Marc Ganis for making allegedly false statements about them in a recent newspaper article.

In that piece, published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ganis is quoted as saying that the rooftop owners are “stealing” the Cubs’ product, a charge that the owners vehemently contest.

The genesis of the fight between rooftops and the team came in 2004, when 11 of the 13 owners of buildings surrounding the historic ballpark settled a lawsuit with the Cubs over the right to sell tickets to rooftop stadium boxes during games. Under the terms of the deal, the Cubs would not block the view of the rooftops, and in exchange the team would receive 17% of the profits generated by the clubs that sold tickets, as well as the right for a bleacher renovation and expansion project that took place following the 2004 season and added several hundred seats to the ballpark.

There were two buildings that continued to fight after that, and the Cubs installed windscreens on the fencing behind the bleachers to obstruct their views. Eventually, the team and those owners came to an accord, and the screens were taken down.

The controversy has boiled up again in recent years because of changes that the Cubs want to make to the ballpark. The $300 million renovation, which will be performed with all private money, is contingent upon the Cubs being able to install a jumbotron scoreboard behind the left field bleachers, and the team also wants to add signage to the outfield at a level that they insist will not obstruct the view of the rooftop clubs beyond Waveland and Sheffield Avenues.

The owners have cried foul about the arrangement, and have been threatening legal action for quite some time against the team if they decide to move forward with the construction without striking a deal with them first. Wednesday’s filing of a lawsuit against Ganis doesn’t directly involve the team, as they weren’t named as a party in the lawsuit, but it was a signal from the rooftop owners that they are serious about protecting both their reputation and the terms of their agreement with the team.

According to Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney, the rooftop owners make an estimated $20 million per season in profit after they give the Cubs their 17 percent cut, and he insisted that the team’s agreement with the rooftops doesn’t prevent them from putting up signs.

“Just to be very, very clear on this point, the contract does not prevent signage in the outfield,” Kenney told the media at Cubs Convention over the weekend. “At all. Full stop. What prevented signs in the outfield was the old landmark ordinance, which has been changed. So that’s been reported incorrectly. The rooftops say all the time, ‘Our contract doesn’t allow signage,’ but that’s not true.”

Alderman Patrick O’Connor, 40th, has been serving as a mediator of sorts between the two sides since the end of 2013, and according to him, the reason for the newest impasses between the Cubs and the rooftop owners is a debate over the size of the video board that the Cubs are wanting to install in left field. The Cubs have already shrunk the size of the proposed board once to satisfy the owners, but reportedly the rooftop owners now want the Cubs to move the new signage to a rooftop adjacent to the park, rather than be a part of the ballpark itself.

At any rate, the issue could find itself in a court room at some point in the near future as the two sides continue to squabble.

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