Ricketts: Wrigley revamp back on line

ByDarren Rovell ESPN logo
Thursday, May 22, 2014

In a move that is expected to lead to legal action by the Wrigleyville rooftop owners against the team, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts announced he has decided to go back to his original renovation and expansion plan for Wrigley Field that could significantly affect rooftop sight lines.

In a video published early Thursday morning on the team's website, Ricketts told fans he needed to move forward with his $500 million privately funded mission to revitalize the 100-year-old ballpark and the surrounding area in order to see the fruits of the revenue generators his counterparts enjoy. The video strongly connects the Cubs' lack of competitiveness in recent years with the inability to produce the revenue others teams are seeing.

"Being unable to improve our park puts us in the hole by tens of millions of dollars a year," Ricketts said.

In January 2013, Ricketts announced a master plan that included expanding the walls and bleachers; a signage plan to accommodate extensive advertising was never realized. His revised expansion plan requires Commission on Chicago Landmarks approval for additional seating, new lighting, four additional LED signs of up to 650 square feet and a 2,400-square-foot video board in right field.

Other changes sought by the Cubs that don't require commission approval include design modification to the player facilities, including expanding the Cubs' clubhouse. The visitors clubhouse also would be expanded. The Chicago Tribune reports the bullpens would be moved from the foul lines to underneath the bleachers, which would require the removal of some bricks and ivy.

The new setup would compromise the 15 rooftop owners across the street, whose revenue-sharing agreement with the team runs through the end of 2023. They give 17 percent of their gross revenues to the Cubs for the right to sell seats that peek into the park. Although Ricketts got approval from the local authorities to go through with his plan, he backed down from the aggressive design and settled for a more tempered version -- agreeing to put a sign in right field and a video board in left field in the name of peace and moving forward.

However, Ricketts still couldn't come to terms on a settlement with the rooftop owners, who threatened to sue. So rather than risk fighting them in court on the compromised plan, Ricketts has gone back to his more aggressive proposal.

"Unfortunately, this decision by the Ricketts family will now result in this matter being resolved in a court of law," Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said in a statement emailed to Chicago media outlets.

Ricketts tells fans in the video that he understands his reverting back to the original plan could have legal consequences he now accepts.

"We've spent endless hours negotiating with the rooftop businesses and we've gotten nowhere in our talks with them to settle this dispute," Ricketts says in the video. "It has to end. It's time to move forward. I have to put the team and the fans first.

"We hoped to avoid heading to the courthouse, but the most important thing is we want to exercise our right to expand and preserve the ballpark we own and love."

Ricketts is hoping to win over fans by having them sign a petition on the official stadium website that supports the original idea.

In his video, Ricketts says Wrigley has "the worst player facilities in Major League Baseball" and that the park is the only facility in the majors where the home team's hitters don't have a batting cage near the dugout. Ricketts says the hitters would cover a television, drop a net down and hit the ball off a tee into the net in the clubhouse.

"I'm not saying Wrigley is the reason why the Chicago Cubs haven't won a championship in more than 100 years," Ricketts says. "But I am saying it is the time to invest in Wrigley Field and do the things that our competitors do."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton released a statement by email, saying: "Like all Cub fans, the mayor doesn't want to wait for next year, and if this proposal helps the Cubs get closer to a ballpark renovation this fall -- and the jobs and neighborhood investments that come with it -- it's worth taking a look at."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.