Sources: Cubs, Chicago close to Wrigley deal

Sources: Cubs, Chicago close to Wrigley deal

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Chicago Cubs fans may have something to cheer about, after all.

Two people with knowledge of the negotiations between the Ricketts family that owns the Cubs and the city say the two are near an agreement on a $500 million project at Wrigley Field. The people spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet finished and they are not authorized to publicly discuss it.

Rooftop club owners vowed Friday to use "any and all means necessary" — including a lawsuit — to challenge any plan to renovate Wrigley Field that blocks their bird's-eye view of the 99-year-old stadium, a move with the potential to unravel a hard-fought agreement.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that the Cubs and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were closing in on a deal to renovate Wrigley and develop property around the stadium that will include "at least two" new signs inside the ballpark — one of them a video scoreboard in left field — along with a 300-space parking garage and added police protection to appease local residents.

Two sources close to the marathon negotiations said "a couple" of rooftops would be impacted by the decision to locate a Jumbotron in left field and another sign in right. But the sources said top mayoral aides are still working with the Cubs and local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) on ways to "soften" the impact.

The source refused to reveal specifics but said there would be no extension of the agreement deal that expires in 2023 and requires the 16 rooftop clubs to share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs.

On Friday, rooftop club owners who were hoping for an extension and no blockage released a statement that essentially said: not so fast.

"The apparent decision to allow the Chicago Cubs to block the views of some Wrigleyville Rooftops is in direct violation of the current 20-year agreement entered into by the Cubs and the rooftop owners," the statement said.

"The in-force contract negotiated by federal mediators which enumerates revenue sharing between the Cubs and their neighbors — along with the accompanying landmark ordinance — protects the `uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers' until at least 2024. Any construction that interrupts the rooftop views will effectually drive them out of business and be challenged in a court of law."

Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy's Bleachers, could not be reached for comment.

The statement issued by the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association quoted Murphy as saying, "We are deeply troubled that 16 small businesses were not party to talks where their contractual rights were at stake. Rooftop owners reserve the right to use any and all means necessary to enforce the remaining 11 years of our 20-year contract. We support a renovated Wrigley Field, but the neighborhood and its businesses should be partners in the debate as we have over the last 30 years."

Cubs spokesman Dennis Culloton refused to comment. Top mayoral aides were not fazed by the rooftops' threat to file suit. They say they expected it.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has offered to bankroll a $300 million Wrigley renovation without a public subsidy — and build a $200 million hotel development on McDonald's property he purchased across the street from the stadium — if the city agrees to lift restrictions on outfield signs and night games and opens Sheffield Avenue for street fairs on game days.

With support from Tunney, rooftop clubs have countered with a plan to generate $17.9 million-a-year to bankroll the stadium renovation by putting seven digital signs on top of their buildings instead of inside the ballpark blocking their views.

Emanuel has been trying to broker a deal that would allow the rooftops to survive and thrive and still give the Cubs the sign revenue they need to renovate the landmark stadium.

In 2004, the Cubs and the rooftops struck a deal after an acrimonious dispute that saw the team put up windscreens to obscure rooftop views and file a copyright-infringement lawsuit designed to put the private clubs out of business.

Rooftop owners agreed to pay the Cubs 17 percent of their gross revenues for the next 20 years. In exchange, the Cubs agreed to market the rooftops and adjust the compensation rate downward if a 2006 bleacher expansion hurt views.

Despite the agreement, rooftop wars have become an almost annual rite of spring.

Friday's developments threaten to open a new front in the ongoing war.

On the day they pitched their rooftop advertising plan in late January, Murphy and fellow rooftop club owner George Loukas said they "absolutely" believe Ricketts' ultimate goal is to drive down the value of their properties so he can gobble up buildings the Cubs should have purchased years ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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