The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Chicago Tribune Co. has reached a preliminary agreement to sell the Cubs to Ameritrade billionaires the Ricketts family for around $900 million. Reuters, meanwhile, says that the Trib has also agreed to terms with a group led by private equity investor Marc Utay; given that the Trib is currently in bankruptcy, this could mean that a court could ultimately determine the team’s owner, or just that the current owners are hoping to show they’ve done due diligence. (MLB would still need to sign off on either sale, and as we’ve seen, judges don’t like to mess with sports leagues’ control of franchises.)
Whoever ends up with the Cubs, one big question here is: What will this mean for Wrigley Field, which the previous ownership had suggested selling to the state as part of a tax dodge scheme? Chicago Sun-Times city hall reporter Fran Spielman writes that the latest plan was for a “$250 million makeover” to be completed by 2014, with “new concourses, washrooms, concessions, skyboxes and a club seating lounge.” The team would also build a five-story building in what’s currently a parking lot between Wrigley and Clark St., allowing it to add restaurants, retail space, and player workout space a la what the Boston Red Sox did by buying buildings adjacent to Fenway Park.
Adds Spielman: “Sources said Tom Ricketts, the family’s point man on the Cubs sale, has seen all of the renderings, but has not yet signed off on a specific renovation plan.” And no word at all on whether the plan to sell it to the state to generate tax savings is still on the table — if so, they’d better hurry, as the IRS provision that would allow them to save $50 million or so via the PILOT dodge expires at the end of December.
Spielman concludes by quoting “a source familiar with the issue” as saying that Ricketts is intent on staying put at Wrigley — albeit a Wrigley with added skyboxes — for the foreseeable future: “The ballpark is safe and structurally sound. Substantial resources have been put into maintaining it.” We’ll see if Ricketts changes his tune once he finds himself needing to convince Illinois legislators to help foot the renovation bill.