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Cubs revise Wrigley signs to qualify for federal tax credit

The Cubs have agreed to drop one of seven new outfield signs at a renovated Wrigley Field, swap the location of two signs and reduce the size of a video board to qualify for a federal tax credit that could be worth up to $75 million.

Under the latest agreement, expected to be approved Thursday by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, the Cubs would: scrap a 650-sq.ft. script sign in left-field; swap the locations of a video board and a 650-foot script sign in right field; reduce the size of the right-field video board from 2,400-to-2,200 sq.ft. and move the left-field video board 30 feet closer to the iconic center-field scoreboard, but still 105 feet away from it now that the seventh outfield sign has been eliminated.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the “negotiated settlement” with the U.S. National Park Service stems from the federal agency’s desire to isolate Wrigley’s manual center-field scoreboard and minimize the impact of outfield signs on the iconic view of the neighborhood from inside the century-old stadium looking out.

In 2004, the center-field scoreboard was one of several “historic elements” of Wrigley landmarked as part of an agreement that paved the way for 12 more night games.

The designation also covered the exterior and marquee sign at Clark and Addison, the ivy-covered brick walls and the uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers and grandstand. The look of those bleachers and hand-operated scoreboard are the impetus for the latest revisions, Green said.

“We’ve agreed to make these changes to prevent the other signs from encroaching on the center-field scoreboard, which represents a landmark and is a prominent feature in the outfield. This improves the aesthetics of the outfield configuration,” Green said.

“This is based on a negotiated settlement with the National Park Service to receive their approval and put this on track to receive federal historical tax credits. We wouldn’t be eligible to receive those dollars until after the project is finished. But, the credit represents tens of millions of dollars that could be used to help fund the project. Given the scope of this project, we believe Wrigley Field qualifies for those dollars.”

Since an “advertising partner” has not yet been lined up, Green said it’s impossible to say how much revenue the Cubs are forfeiting by eliminating one of seven previously authorized outfield signs.

But it’s safe to say that the ad revenue is a lot less than the $75 million in federal tax credits the privately financed project stands to receive. Otherwise, the Cubs wouldn’t have made the deal.

The National Park Service had no immediate comment on the deal that could reserve a spot for Wrigley on the National Register of Historic Places. At Soldier Field, a widely ridiculed renovation that some have likened to a flying saucer landing on the collonades cost that stadium, built in 1924, a similar designation.

A copy of the agreement, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, states, “The rehabilitation of this property . . . will meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation provided that the . . . conditions are met.”

Landmarks Commission Chairman Rafael Leon is out of the country until next week and will not attend Thursday’s meeting.

But in an email to the Sun-Times, he wrote, “Based on preliminary conversations, I believe the changes are positive. I think it is good that the Cubs are coming back to the commission as we have requested they do when there are changes to the plan we approved. I also know that the commission’s staff has been working closely with the Cubs and the National Park [Service] to improve the plans we approved.”

Commission member Jim Houlihan, a former Cook County assessor, said he also likes what he hears about the changes.

“It does improve the significance of the center-field scoreboard,” Houlihan said Wednesday.

“Throughout the process, we had some concerns about the impact of the signs on the vista and the integrity of the park. That’s something we tried to be measured about while preserving the landmark status and, at the same time, allowing signs that make the project fiscally do-able.”

Commission member Mary Ann Smith, a former lakefront alderman, added, “Down-sizing the signs is great. I love it. Who wants bigger signs? Nobody. I’m really delighted. We all know a lot of people come to Wrigley Field for the ambience. The more the open sweep is maintained, the better.”

Green said he has no idea what impact the changes would have on the birds-eye view of Wrigley from rooftop clubs that share 17 percent of their revenues with the team.

Earlier this year, eight rooftop club owners filed a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Landmarks Commission’s decision to approve the revised stadium renovation plan — including seven outfield signs, two of them video scoreboards, and new seating.

Also on Wednesday, the Cubs announced a “long-term legacy partnership” with Wintrust Financial Corporation that calls for the company to have its name atop the left-field video board during the 2015 season.

The lucrative partnership is expected to expand over time and include: “primary signage rights” above the left-field Jumbotron; naming rights at “Gate D” at Addison and Sheffield; rotational signs behind home plate; a video board feature between innings at every Cubs home game; signage in the outfield and behind home plate at Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., and a retail lease at a hotel and entertainment plaza adjacent to Wrigley.

In late May, the Cubs declared an impasse with rooftop club owners after months of nowhere negotiations and unveiled a revised plan that literally invited their revenue-sharing partners to sue.

The plan called for seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards, 300 new seats, 300 standing-room positions and new outfield light standards 92 feet high.

The plan that added $75 million to the $300 million price tag of the stadium renovation project also included: a 30,000-square-foot home clubhouse in a two-level basement beneath an outdoor plaza; a 200-seat restaurant and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout; and three or four rows of additional bleacher seats.

Some of the new seats would have been created by relocating the home and visiting bullpens from foul territory to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers. To give relief pitchers a view of the field, larger bullpen doors that would have disturbed the century-old stadium’s ivy-covered brick walls were part of the plan.

That blindsided and infuriated Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose administration had spent months working with the Cubs to finalize the expanded sign plan.

The mayor got even with the Cubs by yanking the plan off the Landmarks Commission agenda and forcing the Cubs to drop plans to double the width of the bullpen doors.

The Cubs broke ground on the Wrigley project in October. But the process of relocating water and sewer lines outside Wrigley in preparation for the bleacher expansion turned out to be more complicated than expected. That makes it possible that the rebuilt bleachers will not be ready in time for opening day.