Cubs to Risk Lawsuits, Proceed With Original Wrigley Renovation Plan

"It's time to move forward. I have to put the team and the fans first," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts says in video message to fans

The owners of the Chicago Cubs say they're moving forward with plans to renovate and expand Wrigley Field, despite the threat of lawsuits by the owners of the adjacent rooftop venues overlooking the 100-year-old ballpark.

Chairman Tom Ricketts, whose family owns the north-side Chicago team, said Thursday that the Cubs will submit a revised expansion plan to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks that includes the team's original proposal to add several outfield signs and additional bleacher seats.

"Unfortunately, it seems like my family's plans for Wrigley Field have gotten lost in the dispute with the rooftops," he said. "As a result, despite having new city ordinances to allow for expansion and renovation at Wrigley Field, we are back to square one with the rooftop businesses."

He said the team's negotiations with the owners of the adjacent rooftop venues are "back to square one" and that it's time to move forward.

The City Council approved the Cubs' $500 million renovation plan last summer, but it has been stalled by opposition from the owners of the 15 rooftop venues. They have a contract with Cubs that runs through 2023 requiring them to pay the team 17 percent of their gross annual revenue. The rooftop owners fear the signs and additional seating will block their views of the field.

The two sides appeared to be close to a deal before the Cubs' annual fan convention last month, when Ricketts made some remarks that the neighbors considered disparaging.

Ricketts' revised expansion plan requires Landmark Commission approval for calls for additional seating, new lighting, four additional LED signs of up to 650 square feet, and a 2,400-square-foot video board in right field.

Other changes sought by Cubs that don't require commission approval include design modification to the player facilities, including expanding the Cubs clubhouse. The visitor's clubhouse would also be expanded. Movement of the bullpen to an area under the bleachers and a reduction in the size of a left field video board already approved by the city.

"I know this plan is in the best interest of our fans and our players," Ricketts said in a video posted on the team's website. "We hope to avoid heading to the courthouse. But the most important thing is we want to exercise our right to expand and preserve the ballpark we own and love."

The Cubs have invested in facilities and their farm system, and the team this year opened a new facility funded by taxpayers in Mesa, Arizona.

The area's alderman, however, said he does not support the latest move by Ricketts.

"I am opposed to any further signs in Wrigley Field beyond those agreed to last year. In fact, I've been opposed to additional signage in Wrigley Field since the first request for the Toyota sing," Ald. Tom Tunney said in a statement. "However, working with community input, last July we gave the Cubs a fair package so that they could get going on renovations to the ballpark. There is no doubt the neighborhood gave them a lot of concessions. We rolled out the red carpet to keep the team at the historic corner of Clark and Addison."

Tunney also quoted Ricketts as saying "we always talked about three goals: win a championship, preserve Wrigley Field, and be a great neighbor."

"The 'great neighbor' goal is missing from this latest proposal and needs to be respected," Tunney said.

Ricketts has acknowledged some difficulties stemming from the $845 million purchase of the team from Tribune Co. that left the Ricketts family with a debt load. But he pointed out Thursday the team hasn't sought city or state economic development money he says is routinely obtained for projects like the Cubs are proposing.

"We want to exercise our right to improve Wrigley Field," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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