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ANALYSIS: Why Cubs, City Hall haven’t sealed Wrigley deal yet

Wrigley Field is decked out for Chicago Cubs home opener against Milwaukee Brewers Monday April 8 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Wrigley Field is decked out for the Chicago Cubs home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday April 8, 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 12, 2013 2:04PM



A team owner who took his own political leverage off the table, set deadlines that were not met without consequence and hurt his own case by “moving the goal posts.”

An alderman who’s eager to make a deal but hard-pressed to deliver on what he promised and having a tougher time pleasing constituents and small businesses fighting for survival but excluded from the bargaining table.

A mayor with a reputation for sealing deals and getting what he wants who is unwilling to ride herd over a local alderman and his community.

Those are the reasons why a $500 million deal that would have allowed the Cubs to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley Field and develop the land around it has not yet been announced days after it appeared to be sealed.

“Every constituency group is gonna have to give a little bit. The city is gonna have to give. The neighborhood’s gonna have to compromise. The rooftops are gonna have to compromise,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said Wednesday. “But the specifics keep changing and the asks keep changing. So, how do you pin down what are we agreeing to when those [requests] change all the time?”

Pressed to identify the changing demands, Tunney said he thought he had an agreement with the Cubs to lift the 30-games-per-season ceiling on the number of night games, only to be told that Major League Baseball could override the new limit.

There’s also the issue of a giant video scoreboard in left field that would partially obstruct the view from at least two rooftops and another sign in right field that, rooftop club owners fear, might be three times bigger than the see-through Toyota sign in left field.

Sources said Tunney was trying to broker a deal to compensate rooftop club owners for any loss of revenue tied to stadium signage. There was even talk of eliminating the right-field sign altogether in exchange for an increase in the revenue-sharing agreement that calls for the clubs to share 17 percent of their annual take with the team.

But the rooftops apparently threw a monkey wrench into that plan when they threatened to file a lawsuit and demanded an extension of the agreement, with 11 years left to run, that Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts can’t wait to get out from under.

“There will be signage in the outfield. Size, location to be determined,” Tunney said Wednesday.

Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for rooftop club owners who have not had a seat at the bargaining table, would say only, “The rooftop owners have never been presented any details whatsoever formally or informally by the Chicago Cubs, their legal partners. Any insinuation otherwise is false.”

There’s also the issue of a new 300-space parking garage the Cubs were planning to build at Clark and Grace to satisfy Tunney’s demand for more parking to replace the 400 spaces that were supposed to be part of a “triangle building” adjacent to the ballpark.

In recent days, scores of residents have signed an online petition against the new parking garage. They fear it would make traffic even more “unbearable” than it already is and turn their neighborhood into a “parking lot.”

That has forced Tunney to switch gears and ask that the Cubs instead provide free remote parking, which now costs $6 for a 20-minute ride and is seldom used.

“We’ve got to figure out a combination of stored parking in the neighborhood or on the perimeter of it or a remote parking strategy. I’m good with either way,” Tunney said. “That’s why it’s important to listen to the community. That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s why we don’t have a deal at this point.”

“Remote parking is the No. 1 priority in our congested neighborhood,” he said. “The offer was to make it free. . . . It’s probably easier to do that than to build.”

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.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel desperately wants to deliver a deal that could generate 2,000 jobs and $20 million in annual tax revenue for the city and state.

But he has not been willing to roll over Tunney or agree to details that mean millions, but must go through a planned development process that involves the politically active Wrigleyville community.

“The problem is, each decision has a financial impact on the plan, and the team needs specifics on how big the video board can be and how high the hotel will be,” said a source close to the negotiations. “Some of the decisions have to be done through the planned development process. But it makes it tough to have a plan all wrapped and tied up with a bow when there are things that need to be figured out. Some of these issues the mayor and the aldermen would rather keep at a broader level. But the Cubs need these issues buttoned down. It’s difficult to say we definitely will be starting construction in the fall unless all the numbers work.”

Ricketts didn’t exactly help his own cause when he issued a joint statement on Opening Day pledging to continue negotiating exclusively with Chicago.

With both his April 1 and home opener deadlines blown, the Cubs chairman could have hired an architect to draw up plans for a Wrigley replica in Rosemont, where Mayor Brad Stephens has offered 25 acres of free land with no restrictions on signage, night games or street fairs.

After all, the White Sox got their deal through the Illinois General Assembly, only after threatening to move to St. Petersburg, Fla. The Bears made similar threats to move — including to Gary, Ind. — before finally getting Soldier Field renovated at taxpayers’ expense.

Instead, Ricketts acted like the loyal Cub fan that he is — he met his wife watching a game in the bleachers at Wrigley.

“From a negotiating or poker-playing perspective, it wasn’t the best negotiating position, but the Ricketts family thinks it’s the right thing to do. They hope it creates positive momentum,” said a source familiar with the talks.

Another source said, “He’s trying to do the right thing. He’s saying, `We want to be here.’ He really wants to be here and make things work. But what happens if we go through the [planned development] process, and it doesn’t work?”

Asked why Emanuel hasn’t sealed the deal, City Hall sources would only say that the “proverbial goal posts keep moving” because of the Cubs’ ever-changing requests.

“We believe the framework we presented to the Cubs addresses their concerns and gives them the certainty they need to move forward to the next stage, which is the planned development process,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Coming in with an iron fist is not how he operates. . . . Some of the certainty they want, we can’t give them.”



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