CHICAGO – Fans of the lovable losers have something to look forward to, after all.
The city of Chicago and the Ricketts family that owns the Cubs are close to agreement on a $500 million overhaul of Wrigley Field, two people with knowledge of the negotiations said Friday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal, first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, was not yet finished and they were not authorized to publicly discuss it.
The agreement is expected to include $300 million in renovations at Wrigley, more night games, a parking lot and a $200 million hotel nearby, the people said. They said the team would pick up the entire tab to renovate Wrigley, ending a negotiating process that at times was about as ugly as the way the team has been playing in recent years. It is expected to be completed by Monday, when the Cubs have their home opener for the 2013 season.
The plan calls for a video scoreboard inside the park in left field and another sign in right field, and one person close to the negotiations. The size of the video scoreboard was among the details still being worked out. Some owners of the famed rooftops across the street where fans watch games have threatened to sue if the renovation does anything to obstruct their view.
Still, the signs — and advertising on them — and those additional night games are significant because team Chairman Tom Ricketts has said he'd be willing to pay for the entire project if the city would agree to those two moves. The Cubs are also expected to build a 300-space parking garage on the site of a gravel lot at a nearby cemetery, according to the two people. Neighbors have long complained about the lack of parking on game days.
Fans know all about the Cubs and their 105-year World Series championship drought, but the team for years has desperately wanted an update for Wrigley, saying it spends as much as $15 million a year just to keep up with the repairs on the 99-year-old stadium that trails only Fenway Park in Boston as the oldest in the major leagues.
The Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009 for $845 million and has made updating Wrigley a priority. It asked the City Council for permission to put $150 million in city amusement taxes into the renovation and asked state lawmakers to issue $150 million in bonds. The family also asked the city to relax Wrigley's landmark status, which could bring in $150 million more from advertising, sponsorship and perhaps that video scoreboard.
Getting a deal hasn't been easy. After failing to reach an agreement when Mayor Richard Daley was in office, the family kept talking to the administration of Rahm Emanuel after he took office in 2011. Emanuel the next year said city officials and the Ricketts family were in the "final stages" of talks on a renovation plan that could include public help.
Then came the news that the patriarch of the Ricketts family, which created the TD Ameritrade brokerage firm, was considering a $10 million campaign against President Barack Obama that would refer to the racially incendiary sermons delivered by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at a Chicago church Obama once attended.
Suddenly, fans who were so hopeful about the new owners — they loved the story about how Tom Ricketts met his wife in the bleachers years ago — were angry at the family.
More important, the news angered Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff. Emanuel, staffers said, was so livid that he simply refused to take phone calls from Tom Ricketts. The mayor of nearby Rosemont piped up, saying the village located near O'Hare International Airport would be willing to let the Cubs have 25 acres free of charge to build a replica of Wrigley Field.
"I am not badmouthing Chicago, I understand the sentimental value of the ballpark and I don't want to get in the middle of the negotiations," said Mayor Bradley Stephens. "But I don't want to spend the rest of my career scratching my head when they become the Addison (another suburb) Cubs."
By Monday, that shouldn't be a worry.