CHICAGO – The Cubs and the city have agreed on details of a $500 million facelift for Wrigley Field, including an electronic video screen that is nearly three times as large as the one currently atop the centerfield bleachers of the 99-year-old ballpark.
Under the agreement, the Cubs would also be able to increase the number of night games at Wrigley Field from 30 to 40 – almost half the games played there each season. They would give Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts the ability to renovate the second-oldest park in the major leagues, boost business and perhaps make baseball's most infamous losers competitive again.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed what the two sides called a "framework" agreement in a joint statement issued Sunday night, noting that it includes no taxpayer funding. That had been one of the original requests of the Ricketts family in a long-running renovation dispute that at times involved everything from cranky ballpark neighbors to ward politics and even the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama.
"This framework allows the Cubs to restore the Friendly Confines and pursue their economic goals, while respecting the rights and quality of life of its neighbors," Emanuel said.
Still uncertain was how the agreement would sit with owners of nearby buildings who provide rooftop views of the ball games under an agreement with the Cubs that goes back years.
They have threatened to sue if the renovations obstruct their view, which they claim would drive them out of business. On Monday, a spokesman for the rooftop owners said the group would have a statement later, but in the meantime referred the AP to the group's statement released earlier this month that says: "Any construction that interrupts the rooftop views will effectually drive them out of business and be challenged in a court of law."
The Cubs said the video screen they are proposing to build is 6,000 square feet, and would be built with "minimal impact on rooftops with whom (the) Cubs have an agreement." The current centerfield scoreboard is slightly more than 2,000 square feet; the Cubs also have plans to add a left-field sign of 1,000 square feet.
The video screen and new signs around the park offer the team a chance to reach new advertising deals and pay for the overhaul, even if it changes the character of the historic park. The city and club said they hope the agreement would allow the Cubs to obtain necessary city approvals for the work by the end of the current season.
The Ricketts family, which bought the Cubs in 2009 for $845 million, initially sought tax funding for renovation plans. With that out in the new agreement, the owners will seek to open new revenue streams outside the stadium. Under the agreement, the Ricketts family would be allowed to build a 175-room hotel, a plaza, and an office building with retail space and a health club, and provide 1,000 "remote" parking spots that will be free and come with shuttle service.
"We are anxious to work with our community as we seek the approvals required to move the project forward," Ricketts said in the statement.
The site of Babe Ruth's "called shot" home run in the 1932 World Series and more heartbreak than Cubs fans would like to remember, Wrigley Field is younger only than Boston's Fenway Park in the majors. It has long been a treasured showplace for baseball purists – night games were only added in 1988 – but team officials for years have desperately wanted a true upgrade, saying it costs as much as $15 million a year just to keep up with basic repairs.
The ballpark has also played no small part in the lore of the team, as fans were reminded April 10 when someone delivered a goat's head in a box addressed to Ricketts. Neither the team nor the Chicago Police Department have talked about a possible motive for the strange delivery, but as every fan knows it was in the 1945 World Series when a tavern owner arrived at the park with his pet goat – which had a ticket.
According to legend, the owner was told the goat smelled and was denied entry. The angry tavern owner then put the "Curse of the Billy Goat" on the Cubs – and the team has not been back to the World Series since. The last World Series championship for the Cubs came in 1908 – six years before Wrigley was built.
After failing to reach an agreement when Mayor Richard Daley was in office, the Ricketts family kept talking after Emanuel took office in 2011. But even presidential politics presented an obstacle for the plans at one point. During the 2012 election, the patriarch of the Ricketts family, which created the TD Ameritrade brokerage firm, was considering a $10 million campaign against Obama that would refer to the racially incendiary sermons delivered by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at a Chicago church the president once attended. J. Joseph Ricketts dropped the proposal, but the episode brought a huge dose of unwanted bad press and angered Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff.
In recent weeks, fans also had to deal with the unlikely specter of the Cubs leaving Chicago. With the talks bogged down, 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.
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