Spectators watch a Chicago Cubs baseball game from several of the rooftop bleachers across the field from Wrigley Field in Chicago in May, 2013. ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHICAGO — 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 team on Chicago’s North Side, said in a statement released today 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.”
Ricketts 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.
A lawyer representing the rooftop owners said they would fight the move.
“It appears their zeal to block rooftop owners who pay them millions of dollars a year in royalties knows no bounds,” lawyer Ryan McLaughlin said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this decision by the Ricketts family will now result in this matter being resolved in a court of law.”
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 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 the Cubs that don’t require commission approval include: design modification to the player facilities, including expanding the Cubs’ clubhouse; expansion of the visitors’ clubhouse; 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.
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 today that the team hasn’t sought city or state economic development money he says is routinely obtained for projects such as this.
“We want to exercise our right to improve Wrigley Field,” he said.