Moneyball Over Wrigley Renovations
Sizing up the key players, from Rahm to Pat Quinn
The debate over rehabbing Wrigley Field was packed with political drama even before the May revelation that Joe Ricketts, the archconservative patriarch of the Cubs-owning family, was considering a racially charged $10 million ad campaign attacking President Obama. For months, the Cubs had been in a political tug of war for public help—as much as $300 million—with their planned $500 million refurbishment of the 98-year-old ballpark. Though the Ricketts controversy sent a livid Rahm Emanuel away from the negotiating table, once the mayor cools off, he and the rest of the politicos will no doubt resume the tugging. Here’s a look at the competing players, in descending order of their interest in the rehab, and what they want.
TOM RICKETTS (and family)
INTEREST IN REHAB: * * * * *
NEGOTIATING POWER: * ½
Bought the Cubs and Wrigley for $845 million in 2009. Says he will pay to develop land around the stadium—a $200 million project—and for improvements to the park itself, but wants governmental assistance too. Cites the 12 percent city and county amusement tax the Cubs pay per ticket (the highest in baseball) as rationale for public help—not to mention the economic boost the upgrades would bring. While the White Sox got their new stadium by threatening to move to Florida, the Cubs have no such leverage. But if Wrigley falls apart, everyone loses.
INTEREST IN REHAB: * * * *
NEGOTIATING POWER: * * * *
Wants a “Fenway plan,” modeled after the ten-year renovation of Boston’s Fenway Park. Opposes a direct taxpayer handout, but would relax historic landmark restrictions to allow more in-stadium advertising. Would also let the Cubs hold game-day street fairs and give the team a share of the city and county amusement tax revenues on tickets, if the Cubs also pay for stadium improvements. Could push the landmark easements though the City Council but can’t offer up amusement tax dollars without Springfield’s (and Cook County’s) cooperation.
44th Ward Alderman
INTEREST IN REHAB: * * *
NEGOTIATING POWER: * * * ½
Opposes the Fenway plan, citing neighborhood concerns and the business interests of his Wrigleyville constituents. Rooftop club owners, who give the Cubs 17 percent of their revenue, likely stand to lose if landmark restrictions are relaxed and the team adds billboards impeding their views. If the Cubs hold their own street fairs, local merchants would be hurt too. These are some of Tunney’s biggest political supporters, and he has sided with them in previous negotiations. The full council will decide the landmark issue, but the street fair permits go through Tunney.
Illinois Senate President
INTEREST IN REHAB: * * ½
NEGOTIATING POWER: * ½
Is one of the biggest proponents in Springfield for upgrading Wrigley and supported the Ricketts family’s effort to get state help in 2010, which included state-issued bonds. Now says he is wary of issuing bonds because of Illinois’s precarious credit rating and the more pressing issues facing the state. Also says a deal is unlikely in an election year.
Cook County Board President
INTEREST IN REHAB: *
NEGOTIATING POWER: * * ½
Has been involved in the talks but not as vocal as Emanuel or Quinn. Any proposal that includes amusement tax dollars for the Cubs means Cook County will miss out on them at a time when it faces a $300 million deficit. The board must approve any deal involving county amusement tax bonds. Plus: Does she want to oppose Emanuel?
INTEREST IN REHAB:
NEGOTIATING POWER: * * * * * (if deal involves bonds)
Is dead set against footing the bill for billionaire owners. Says rehabbing Wrigley is not a top priority and, so far, has had a small role in the discussions. That would undoubtedly change if things progress, since the Cubs need the state’s (read: Quinn’s) approval on any bond issuance.
Photography: Chicago Tribune photos by (Wrigley) Cheryl A. Guerrero; (Ricketts) Phil Velasquez; (Cullerton) Chris Walker; (Tunney) Nancy Stone; (Emanuel) Antonio Perez; (Quinn) Abel Uribe; (Preckwinkle) Terrence Antonio James