CHICAGO – Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs would privately fund an overhaul of 99-year-old Wrigley Field and construction of an adjacent hotel and plaza under a tentative $500 million plan announced by city and team officials.
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.
The plan fell by the wayside with little city or state support and Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after his 2011 election he opposed public subsidies. The Ricketts eventually scrapped that plan in favor of the more expansive one that asked the city to ease various rules imposed on the ballpark and allow for additional signage and other interior changes to generate more revenue to fund the renovations.
They also offered a more expansive economic development project that includes construction of a hotel and office and retail space near the historic ballpark, bringing the price tag to $500 million.
Emanuel, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, and the city council member representing the area, Alderman Tom Tunney, announced a framework late Sunday and Ricketts provided additional details at a news conference Monday.
Emanuel and Ricketts touted the plan as one that will create 2,100 new construction and permanent jobs, generate about $20 million annually in new tax revenue for the city and state, and preserve a historic ballpark. At the same time, the team believes the plan allows for it to both generate sufficient revenue to cover the construction costs and earn more income to better compete with the other 29 ball clubs. Tom Ricketts is also chairman of the Chicago-based broker dealer Incapital LLC.
“This framework allows the Cubs to restore the Friendly Confines and pursue their economic goals, while respecting the rights and quality of life of its neighbors,” Emanuel said, noting the absence of public tax dollars behind the projects. “It will have a long-lasting positive effect on Chicago.”
Negotiations stalled last year with the city ahead of the presidential election after reports that Tom Ricketts’ father Joe was funding negative advertisements about President Obama. Emanuel was Obama’s first White House chief of staff and is a former Democratic congressman.
But talks heated up in recent months as the team sought an agreement before last week’s Opening Day last week, though community concerns and demands from neighbors who operate rooftop clubs pushed the negotiations longer.
“We are anxious to work with our community as we seek the approvals required to move the project forward,” Ricketts said. The proposed plan will be the subject of community hearings and requires City Council approval for various zoning changes and permits. The city’s landmark commission also must relax rules for allow some of the changes. Officials hope to complete the approval process this year with construction taking place during the off-season over the next five years.
The plan paves the way for the Cubs to generate additional revenue by installing new signage inside the ballpark and a new 6,000-square-foot video board in left field and a 1,000-square-foot sign in right field. The team and city said the changes would preserve ballpark views of nearby residential rooftop owners under their existing contract with the team. The city also will support a request to change the ballpark’s property tax status under rules impacting privately restored Chicago landmarks.
The plan expands the number of allowed night games to 40 from 30, permits up to four concerts, and expands space for merchandise sales. One street lane and a portion of sidewalk would be eliminated around the ballpark to extend an exterior wall.
The Ricketts want to construct a 175-room hotel with meeting space, plaza, 75 parking spaces, and retail space including a health club with a pedestrian bridge connecting the hotel and new ballpark plaza. The team will contribute $1 million for a new park in the neighborhood and donate $3.75 million for infrastructure and amenities.
“In sum, these elements make up a robust package which allows the Cubs organization to move forward on these issues and work with the community on their other needs as part of the next phase of the development process,” a city statement said.
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.