Mayor Rahm Emanuel held his first face-to-face meeting with Theo Epstein this week and came away with a Cubs jacket – not a better idea about how the new Cubs president wants to change Wrigley Field.
“We had a very good meeting. He gave me a [Cubs] jacket. It will be on my ethics report,” the mayor joked.
“I talked about, welcoming him again to the city. … I think I expressed this correctly [that], while we are a city with a deep set of loyalties to which baseball team you are for, regardless of your loyalty, I think the whole city is wishing him well in this new venture with the Chicago Cubs.”
The mayor was asked whether Epstein used the meet-and-greet to talk turkey about ways to turn 97-year-old Wrigley into a bigger money maker for the Cubs.
Did Epstein make the case for more night games or a jumbotron at Wrigley? Did he ask the mayor to relax the ballpark’s landmark status to pave the way for a massive stadium renovation?
“No. It was mainly, ‘Does this size [jacket] fit you?’ ” Emanuel said.
Sources close to the Cubs confirmed that Thursday’s meeting was a cordial meet-and-greet and that stadium substance was not discussed.
Emanuel wants to find a way to save Wrigley without forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth. The mayor has called that Cubs’ plan a “non-starter.”
Epstein’s arrival in Chicago is expected to breathe new life into that stalled plan and failed efforts to relax the ballpark’s landmark status.
That’s because of the sense of hope and excitement that Epstein brought here from Boston and because he presided over similar money-making changes at vintage Fenway Park during his tenure with the Red Sox.
Earlier this week, Emanuel was asked whether Epstein’s arrival in Chicago makes him any more willing to sign onto the Wrigley plan or modify the landmarking restrictions that have tied the Cubs hands.
“Do you think that by choosing a guy called Theo Epstein that this mayor, Rahm Israel Emanuel, would be more sensitive to their needs? Is that what you were asking?” said Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, referring to the Cubs’ first Jewish president of baseball operations.
Turning serious, the mayor said he’s excited about Epstein arrival in Chicago, but not enough to change his tune about using taxpayers’ funds to finance Wrigley at a time when his 2012 budget is cutting human services, closing police stations and raising taxes, fines and fees by $220 million.
“I’m excited that the Cubs have made this decision and wish him the best. But I am not changing my perspective from the taxpayers just because people are excited. I will still evaluate anything I do as it relates to Wrigley Field based on the interests of the taxpayers. That’s who I’m negotiating for,” he said.
The City Council landmarked “historic elements” of Wrigley in 2004 as part of an agreement that paved the way for 12 more night games. The designation covered the exterior and marquee sign at Clark and Addison, the quaint center field scoreboard and ivy-covered brick walls and the uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers and grandstand.
During the 2008 negotiations over the Tribune Co.’s failed plan to have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley, Cubs executive Crane Kenney argued that, “If you’re going to restore and maintain the facility, you’re going to have to take parts of it down and rebuild it, just like we rebuilt the bleachers two years ago. Landmarking authorization doesn’t let you do that.”
After winning the election, then-Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel sent the Cubs back to the drawing board in search of financing alternatives.
Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott has since met with the Cubs to discuss a short list of options that might include reviving the failed plan to have the state buy and renovate Wrigley.
Other possibilities include: modifying the amusement tax plan to give the city some growth; creating a tax-increment financing district around Wrigley; using historic preservation tax credits or broadening the boundaries of a 1 percent tax on downtown restaurant meals used to finance McCormick Place. That tax currently extends as far north as Diversey.
Another, more controversial idea is the sale of personal seat licenses similar to the Soldier Field PSLs that helped provide the Bears contribution to their taxpayer-supported stadium.