The Cubs on Tuesday showcased — and put a $75 million pricetag on — their revised plan to add more signs, seats and lights at Wrigley Field and said if the team is not allowed to “control our ballpark,” it would consider moving and look first at other Chicago sites.
That brings the overall cost of renovating Wrigley and developing the land around it to $575 million.
The added cost is tied to several new features. They include: a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse in a two-level basement beneath an outdoor plaza; adding a 200-seat restaurant and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout; adding three or four rows of bleacher seats and claiming even more seats by relocating the home and visiting bullpens from foul territory to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers that gives relief pitchers a view of the field.
“If there’s one good thing that came out of the delay — and it’s the only good thing — is it gave us a chance to see our players in Arizona. It gave us a chance to see how they used the new place there. And it caused us to re-think a couple of things,” Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations, said of the expanded clubhouse.
Last year, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts told the City Club of Chicago he would “have to consider” leaving century-old Wrigley if he was not allowed to put up the outfield signs he needs to bankroll a $300 million renovation of the landmark stadium.
At the time, the focus was on Rosemont’s offer of free land to build a Wrigley replica and on the overtures made to the Cubs by DuPage County.
On Tuesday, Kenney renewed the threat with a new wrinkle — another site in Chicago — when asked what the Cubs would do if rooftop club owners succeed in blocking the influx of outfield signs.
“If we don’t control our ballpark, then we have to look at other options and we would work with the city on that. . . . We would first look in the city,” Kenney said.
“That would be what would happen, but those conversations have not occurred at any level. . . . Everyone believes this project is moving forward. We’re all excited. The city, obviously, would love to see this move forward, as would the team and our fans. So, our focus has been 100 percent on Wrigley Field and moving this forward,” Kenney said.
In fact, Kenney said the Cubs have worked hand-in-glove with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration in recent months to develop the scorched earth plan that includes seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards and literally dares rooftop club owners to sue.
For example, Kenney said city landmarks officials insisted that there be a “65-foot buffer” between the manual scoreboard in centerfield and the video boards in right and left fields. City Hall further demanded that there be “at least 20 feet between each of the seven outfield signs and that each of the four new LED signs added to the two video scoreboards be no more than 650 square feet.
The revised plan was developed with those criteria in mind.
“You wouldn’t just drop this on the city without them seeing it. We started talking about, `What are the important dimensions from the city’s perspective that need to be maintained. That’s where we came up with ideas around 65 feet, shrinking down the video board [already approved in left-field], putting these signs in these spots and creating these envelopes,” he said.
With a straight face, Kenney insisted that he has no idea what impact, if any, the seven outfield signs would have on the view from rooftop clubs that share 17 percent of their revenues with the team. He argued that a “perfect view” may not even be required from rooftop patrons who are more interested in “tailgating” than watching the game.
Before forging ahead with the Cubs’ “original” plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it, Kenney said team officials explored a host of potential solutions to the rooftop controversy.
They ranged from extending a revenue-sharing agreement that has nine more years to run to reducing the 17 percent split and even buying out the rooftops. None of those ideas resolved the impasse.
“There’s no animosity. There’s no hard feelings. . . . Sometimes you’d like to see this as a big dramatic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It’s none of that. It’s simply a math problem. We need to generate revenue inside the ballpark. We’re financing this ourselves. We’re unlike every team building a new facility,” Kenney told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
“I look at what we can generate from all of these signs and if the options with the rooftops is an improvement above that . . . then obviously we’ll do the economically rational thing and do that. When that proved to be illusive, we went back to generating revenue on our part of the street. . . . We looked at offers to acquire the businesses as well as to change the percentages. We didn’t get to a place where the math worked.”
Now that the dispute is headed for court, Kenney said he’s confident the Cubs are on solid legal ground.
He pointed to a clause in the rooftop agreement that he and Cubs general counsel Mike Lufrano negotiated that essentially states that nothing in the agreement would preclude an expansion plan approved by the city.
Rooftop club owners beg to differ.
Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said the lawsuit the Cubs seem determined to provoke will be filed shortly.
“A contract is a contract. It’s unclear why the Cubs feel they can break a contract with rooftop owners, but they do not break contracts with vendors, baseball players or whomever,” McLaughlin said.
Noting that the rooftops share $3.5 million-to-$4 million of their annual profits with the Cubs, McLaughlin said, “Why would they do that if they didn’t’ feel they had a contract that protected their rights?”
Even if the court fight drags on, Kenney said the Cubs intended to start construction on the plaza in July and on the bleacher expansion this fall. The entire project — including the hotel, office building and stadium renovation — is expected to be completed for the start of the 2018 season.
Wrigleyville community leaders have warned of a political backlash if Emanuel’s handpicked Commission on Chicago Landmarks signs off on the Cubs revised request at its June 5 meeting. Their fears that Emanuel may already be on board were exacerbated by City Hall’s initial response.
The mayor’s City Council floor leader, who tried and failed to broker a deal with the rooftops, branded the revised expansion plan “very real” and said he believes it “conforms” to the landmarks ordinance and will likely be approved.
The mayor’s office was equally receptive to any proposal that “helps the Cubs get closer to a ballpark renovation this fall and the jobs and neighborhood investment that come with it.”
If the Cubs are hoping for approval at the June 5 meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, they’re in a for a rude awakening, according to Matt Hynes, Emanuel’s director of intergovernmental affairs.
“It was known that the Cubs were going to submit a full sign plan to commission, which is their right. But, no one knew about their other changes, such as moving the bullpens. This is a material change that is going to require a thorough review. It’s hard to imagine this will be ready to go next week,” Hynes said.
As for Kenney’s renewed threat to leave Wrigley if the Cubs are not allowed to “control” their own ballpark, Hynes said, “Mayor Emanuel believes the Cubs belong at Wrigley Field and should stay at Wrigley Field. They’re talking about the possibility of other sites. We’ve been focused on one thing: keeping the Cubs at Wrigley. That’s what’s best for the Cubs and the city.”