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Cubs' owner threatens to move team out of Wrigley Field

11:44 PM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
A general view of Wrigley Field before a game between the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports
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CHICAGO -- The owner of the Chicago Cubs threatened Wednesday to move the team out of Wrigley Field if his plans for a big, new video screen are blocked, saying he needs millions of dollars in ad revenue to help bankroll the renovation of the storied ballpark.

It was the first time during months of contentious negotiations over plans for a $500 million renovation of the 99-year-old stadium that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has threatened to move the team out of the lively North Side neighborhood of Wrigleyville.

By far the thorniest issue is the plan for a 6,000-square-foot video screen over left field, as seen in many major league ballparks. The difference is that Wrigley Field -- the second oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball behind Fenway Park in Boston -- is surrounded by privately owned clubs with rooftop bleachers whose owners object to any changes that could block their bird's-eye views into the stadium.

The rooftop businesses have been left out of discussions on the proposed upgrade, but they feel they should have a seat at the bargaining table because they have a contract in which they share 17 percent of their revenue with the Cubs. Legal action is a possibility.

Ricketts presented an architectural rendering of the video screen during his speech to the City Club of Chicago and insisted that the team's own studies have shown it would have minimal, if any, impact on the views. He described the sign as "midsize" compared with those at other stadiums. It is nearly three times as large as the scoreboard currently atop the centerfield bleachers. Another smaller sign with the name of a sponsor is planned for right field.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts joins "Waddle & Silvy" to discuss whether he would really move the team if a Wrigley renovation deal can't be worked out.

 

He said without such signage, the team was losing out on $20 million a year in ad revenue -- essential for helping fund the extensive renovations without dipping into taxpayer funds.

"All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum," Ricketts told the audience.

Ricketts said the team formally filed its full renovation proposal with the city of Chicago on Wednesday. The plan must get approval from city planners and the City Council. There will also be public hearings.

The proposal calls for more night games, a 175-room boutique hotel across the street, a new clubhouse and upgrades for fans. The proposal also calls for an open-air plaza and an office building with retail space.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the alderman whose ward includes Wrigley Field, Tom Tunney, support the overall plan. The mayor's office has already agreed that the outfield signs can be installed, but there has been no agreement on size or design.

If the deal wins approval, Ricketts said work could begin after this season ends and be completed during offseasons over the next five years.

One of the rooftop owners, Beth Murphy, told reporters after listening to Ricketts' speech that it was the first time she'd seen any drawings of the screen and that she and other owners would have a lot of vetting to do before determining if the proposal works. 

"It looked big to me and it looked like it blocked out the neighborhood," Murphy said.

Associated Press

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