Hutton: Tom Ricketts got renovation deal done old-fashioned way
By Mike Hutton 613-0141 or firstname.lastname@example.org July 27, 2013 11:24PM
FILE - In this May 1, 2013 file photo, Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts speaks in Chicago about proposed renovations at Wrigley Field. On Wednesday, July 24, 2013, Chicago City Council aldermen are set to vote on proposed renovations at the historic ballpark. Under the deal, the Cubs agreed not to erect outfield signs in addition to a Jumbotron in left field and another sign in right. They also agreed to indefinitely postpone a planned bridge over Clark Street. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)
Updated: August 30, 2013 6:53AM
The $500 million gorilla that has hunkered over the Cubs franchise the last three seasons is going away soon.
Wrigley Field is getting a facelift. There is going to be a new electronic scoreboard in left field and a board for advertising in right field. There is a shiny hotel and a plaza, a new parking garage, renovated locker rooms, an extended deck in right field and a building for Cubs offices.
The Cubs eventually get to add 16 more night games to their home schedule. They are limited to 30 now. Next year, they get five more.
Tom Ricketts deserves a standing ovation for getting this done — in a way certainly that Tribune Company never would’ve had the patience nor the intestinal fortitude for. He traveled down a road that no owner would choose in an era of unchecked greed in professional sports.
Ricketts is paying for every penny of the renovation. He is a smart businessman. He knows if he pulls this off — and he will after he hammers out an agreement with the rooftop owners about potential litigation when their contract expires in 2023 — he gets his money back tenfold and more.
We are addicted to professional sports. A culture of pro sports landlords have tapped into our obsession with the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. The day the stadium needs a renovation, which comes sooner and sooner, given the arms race that envelops these colossal edifices, they ask for money from taxpayers.
If they are rebuffed, they demand money in a shakedown that is white collar larceny.
They threaten to leave for some other city, some other suburb if they don’t get the bond floated for them.
Or the rent paid for by taxpayers.
For years, the Pacers have had a deal with the city to subsidize Bankers Life Fieldhouse on their behalf. It expires in 2014. Of course, they don’t want to move but they are “strapped” because of poor attendance and a facility that has operating costs that run into the millions. They need help. Indy (the taxpayers) will step up and give it to them because they can’t say no.
A couple years ago, Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf engineered a deal that allowed him to keep all the revenue from a new restaurant and merchandise store that he built even though the stadium is owned by the Illinois Sports Facility Authority, according to Crains. It was a sweetheart arrangement that Reinsdorf made with Jim Thompson, the chairman of the ISFA at the time and a friend of his. Reinsdorf was the same owner who threatened to take the Sox to Tampa in 1989 if he didn’t get public funding for new Cimiskey Park, now U.S. Cellular Field.
New York, the city, paid $370 million to renovate Yankee Stadium.
Fifty years ago, the playbook for building stadiums didn’t include asking for handouts. It’s a new day, in an era when funding for public education is being slashed, cities are going bankrupt and in places where poverty is rampant, professional franchise owners still ask for and get money from you and me.
There were some unique circumstances that made it nearly impossible for Ricketts to get money from the city.
His father, Joe, was called out for funding conservative Political Action Committees (PACS) that were designed to end government spending and defeat President Barrack Obama. It was Joe Ricketts’ money that essentially funded the purchase of the Cubs.
The furor that followed was a gift for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: There was no way that Tom Ricketts could continue to ask for money from the city with his father’s position clearly stated. Emanuel will be able to boast about getting a deal done without dropping a dime of taxpayer money.
Tom Ricketts dropped his request for cash and took a different route: Let me do it my way. And he’d pay for it all.
His will to get it done was impressive. The neighborhood and Chicago politics are a complicated mix. They don’t need the renovation and they have lots of levers they can push to make the process seem futile.
But Ricketts battled on in a way that was mostly transparent and honorable. He never really threatened to leave and he didn’t back down in the face of the ridiculous shifting demands from Alderman Tom Tunney.
Not much will change for those residents — oh, it might be a little harder to see over the scoreboard in left field and there will be more advertising — but everything else is the same. They all moved there — even the senior citizens — knowing what the neighborhood was like. The Cubs have been a part of the neighborhood since 1914.
The stadium and the neighborhood will be better when this is completed and Ricketts will get to look back and say, he did it on his own, without a dime from the public, just the way it used to be.