Chicago City Council Approves $500M Wrigley Field Renovation

Team officials want promise from rooftop owners that they'll never sue

Chicago's City Council on Wednesday approved a $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field and the land surrounding it, but team officials say no work will start until a promise -- in writing -- that rooftop owners will never sue.

"We must resolve once and for all the threat of litigation and the enforcement of existing rooftop ordinances and long term certainty over control of our outfield," read a statement from the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, that was released shortly after the council's vote.

Owners of rooftop businesses adjacent to the park have long-fought plans for large signage that would potentially block their views. They're contractually obligated to share 17 percent of their gross revenue with the Cubs through the 2024 season and earlier this spring threatened to sue if that agreement was broken.

The Wrigleyville Rooftops Association declined to comment about Ricketts' statement. But rooftop owner Max Waisvisz all but promised the Cubs will find themselves in court if what they build hurts his view and his business.

"What they need is a little lawsuit," Waisvisz said. "That's the only thing these guys listen to."

The final plans approved Wednesday include a 5,700-square-foot video scoreboard in left field -- roughly three times the size of the iconic manual one in center, which will remain in operation as well. Another large advertising sign would be in right field. The team also will be able to erect a large advertising sign in right field, double the size of the cramped clubhouse, improve player training facilities in the bowels of the ballpark and build a 175-room hotel across the street.

The approval was the final chapter in a decades-old tug-of-war between the team and its neighbors. During public hearings, some fans urged the city to let the Cubs modernize Wrigley, while others argued the charm of going to the ballpark would be lost.

"They had to modernize, for the team and for the comfort of the fans" said Clay Goss, a 53-year-old trader after he was told of the deal Wednesday afternoon. "Baseball is having a hard time getting younger fans and keeping them, and (while) I'm not a fan of the Jumbotron, kids like it."

In the decades since Wrigley became the Cubs' home, the park has not always aged gracefully; the team once even installed nets to catch concrete falling from the upper deck.

After the Ricketts family bought the team in 2009, it made the argument that the ballpark needed to change. Although the Ricketts defended the brick-and-ivy walls and manual scoreboard, they said they were running a business and not a museum.

Initially, the team wanted public help to pay for the project, but that effort failed. Then the team said it would pay for the entire project. But, team officials said, if they were going to do that, they needed the city to allow it to erect the Jumbotron and other revenue-generating signs that would help pay for the project.

Ricketts tried to convince fans that making the renovations would help the Cubs contend again. They haven't been to the World Series since 1945, the year of the infamous billy goat curse that some superstitious fans still blame for the drought.

The signs became the most contentious part of the proposed renovation project, both because they would change the look of the ballpark and because they were seen as threats to the rooftop businesses across the street. The owners, who charge fans to sit on bleachers they erected on top of the buildings, argue that any sign cutting into their views threatens the existence of their businesses.

Tom Tunney, the alderman whose ward includes Wrigley, said he finally agreed to support the project Tuesday after the Cubs agreed not to put up any more outfield signs for the 10 years left on a contract that calls for the rooftop owners to pay a chunk of their revenue to the team.

"We're wearing the bigger pants in Lakeview. We're committed to working with the Cubs, just make sure the Cubs commit to what they say they're going to do, and no more head fakes," he said.

The Associated Press' Don Babwin contributed to this report.

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