CHICAGO— The Chicago Cubs won city council approval Wednesday for a privately funded $500 million, five-year makeover of the 99-year-old landmark Wrigley Field that includes plans for an adjacent hotel and plaza.
The Ricketts family, who bought the team in 2009, had initially sought public subsidies for a $300 million renovation. That proposal relied on bond financing through the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and diversion of some city amusement taxes to help with repayment.
After financially strapped city and state leaders pushed back on the request, the team scraped the plan in favor a more expansive one that asked the city to ease various rules imposed on the ballpark and allow for additional signage to generate new revenue and other interior changes. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts is also chairman of the Chicago-based broker dealer Incapital LLC.
The plan approved Wednesday allows for construction of a 5,700 square foot electronic jumbotron scoreboard in left field and a 650-square-foot see-through screen in right field, along with construction of an adjacent hotel and plaza. Advertising revenue from the new screens and scoreboards and elsewhere will help finance the private plan.
“There’s not one single taxpayer dollar going to back this up….all will be done with private dollars to modernize the field,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
A “framework” for a deal was unveiled in April. The proposal was met with opposition from neighborhood residents, the local city council member, and owners of adjacent building owners who sell rooftop views of games and have a revenue sharing agreement with the team over the size of the screens and other pieces of the plan.
Heated negotiations between the city, team, alderman, and residents ensued while various suburbs offered up subsidies to lure the team. A compromise was eventually brokered over some contentious issues such as plans for a pedestrian bridge and the future construction of outfield signs. The plan recently passed the council’s zoning committee and was cleared by the city’s landmarks commission and plan commission, sending it to the full council for a vote. Some negotiations, however, still remain with rooftop owners who have threatened a lawsuit.
The plan extends the number of night games and concerts permitted annually. The plan calls for new expanded clubhouses and training facilities and an interior makeover of washrooms, concessions, and concourses as well an exterior restoration. A 175-room hotel will be constructed across the street that will also provide additional space for advertising.
The plan is expected to eventually generate an additional $50 million in new tax revenue for city and state coffers, including $19 million for the city, and create 2,000 jobs. The team argued the revamp was needed to better compete against the 29 other MLB teams and offered the best means to preserve the historic ballpark without public help. The team expects to complete the work over next few years during off-seasons.
Privately funded stadium projects are an anomaly in professional sporting projects, studies and analysis show. Municipal debt has helped finance 21 professional football stadiums over the last quarter century, and 64 major-league venues altogether, including baseball, hockey and basketball, Bloomberg News reported in September.