Ricketts asks for easing of landmark restrictions on Wrigley

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts discusses Sammy Sosa and the renovation of Wrigley Field.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the team is willing to pay for a ambitious $300 million, five-year renovation plan if the city will ease some of the restrictions surrounding Wrigley Field.

“The fact is that when you look at all of the limitations that we have, whether that’s signage in the outfield, which we are not allowed to do, or what kind of stuff we do in the park or around the park, I think we’d just like a little more flexibility to have some options on that stuff,” Ricketts said after a question-and-answers session with fans at the Cubs Convention.

“We have an opportunity cost there that’s tremendous. Just give us some relief on some of these restrictions, and we’ll take care of (renovating) Wrigley Field.”

Among the proposed improvements are larger concourses, restaurants, more bathroom and concession areas, expanded suites and amenities for the players, including a larger home clubhouse, batting cages and additional training facilities. A new roof would replace the wooden roof, new seats would be installed and the fa├žade would return to its 1930s-era luster.

The project would be done during off-seasons over a five-year period, in what business president Crane Kenney termed “the greatest (stadium) restoration project ever.”

The Cubs hope the city will ease what they believe are unfair restrictions on the team by allowing more signage, an increased schedule of night games-- including Saturday night games-- concerts and the use of Sheffield Avenue for street-fests during games.

Kenney said the improvements would not lead to personal seat licenses for season ticket holders.

Ricketts said the team is looking at “other alternatives” to fund the renovations after a proposal to try and use future revenues from their amusement tax contributions fell flat.

“We’re not talking about (the plan) right now,’ he said.  “We’re looking at other things instead. One of the ways we look at it is ‘treat us like a private institution and let us go about doing our business and then we’ll take care of ourselves.”

Due to a landmarking ordinance, the Cubs have to ask for city approval for signage, which was granted for the Toyota sign in the left field bleachers.

Asked if he was aware of the landmarking restrictions when he bought the team, Ricketts replied: “When we bought the team we kind of understood some of the restrictions. What I didn’t understand was we were the only team in baseball to have these restrictions.”

Ricketts said the team has been in discussions with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and feels they’re close to an agreement after talks stalled last year. Emanuel reportedly wouldn’t return Ricketts’ calls after a New York Times report that a PAC run by family patriarch Joe Ricketts considered funding an inflammatory ad campaign against President Obama.

“I hope (we’re close),” Tom Ricketts said. “I think everyone has an incentive. We lost a year this year. We want to get the project rolling. It’s a big economic development for the city. It’s a lot of jobs. It’s something everyone should have incentive to want to get done.”

Kenney said the Cubs understand Emanuel “wants to save the taxpayers.”

“This can not have a negative impact on taxpayers, and it has to create substantial jobs,” he said.   

Ricketts told fans the Cubs pay the second-highest taxes among major league teams, suggetsing an easing of restrictions would be only fair.

“Just let us run out own business,” he said. “We’re not a museum.”

Ricketts said they’d like to open up Sheffield Avenue to a street-fest before games, as the Red Sox have with Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park.

“We think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We think it can really add to the fan experience. We’ve been to Yawkey Way and we think we can do something comparable. (Sheffield) is already closed. Why can’t we put something on it that’s nice for families or for fans coming to games?”

In another shift, the much-hyped triangle building plan has been shelved for an open area that can be used for things like movies, an ice rink, and a farmer’s market. The plan to add parking was also shelved, since polls told the Cubs they didn’t want more congestion next to the ballpark.

Kenney said the Cubs wouldn’t need to remove the landmark status for the proposed changes, adding “the marquee, the ivy, the scoreboard, we’d be the last ones who would want to touch those. The landmark ordinance really isn’t our problem. It’s just the ability to add some of the marketing elements we need and to host games when we feel like it.”

The Cubs are limited to 30 night games under the city ordinance. They would like to have at least a 40-game night schedule, sources said, including occasional Saturday night games, which are currently prohibited unless it’s a nationally televised game.

While a Jumbotron is not in the works yet, the Cubs are open to the possibility, while maintaining the hand-operated scoreboard. Kenney said polls show Cubs fans will support a Jumbotron, a shift in attitude from what they used to say.

“All of our focus groups have swung the other way, if it’s done right,” Kenney said, adding “the key question for them is where, how big, and whether the programming is right.”

In other words, no Kiss Cam.

The Cubs are taking LED board off the centerfield scoreboard because fan surveys suggested “it’s not fitting” with the old one, Kenney said.

All the renovation proposals need city approval, which the Cubs believe should be forthcoming due to the economic impact of the project.

“We need the city’s support to get this off the ground,” Kenney said. “Thousands of jobs are waiting. We expect to get a lot of support from the city because certainly we could all use a little more employment in the city.”


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