The Boston Red Sox this week formally requested that Fenway Park be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in order to get $40 million in federal tax credits on the just-completed renovations to the soon-to-be-100-year-old stadium. (This is different from the $40 million in state tax credits the Sox are getting for the same work.)
Skipping right over the whole tax credit issue, the New York Times cheap irony desk immediately noted that Boston is not Chicago:
Over in Wrigleyville, the Cubs say they are hamstrung by a City Council decision to give landmark designation to parts of 97-year-old Wrigley — including the marquee, ivy, scoreboard, and bleachers. Not only does the local distinction not come with federal tax dollars, but the Cubs say the landmark status is a factor in their failure to follow the Fenway rebuilding model.
“If you’re going to restore and maintain the facility, you’re going to have to take parts of it down and rebuild it,” the Cubs’ president of business operations, Crane Kenney, said in 2008. “Landmarking authorization doesn’t let you do that.”
Of course, the national register isn’t actually landmark status (which Fenway doesn’t have), and Chicago landmarks law doesn’t actually prevent renovations so long as “historic” architectural features are retained, but why ruin a good story? Though it does take away a bit from the contrast between the two teams when the Times reveals that “the Cubs have discussed a listing in the National Register, but will not pursue it until after Wrigley has been renovated” … in other words, just like the Red Sox did.
As for the $80 million the Red Sox will reap in tax credits — actually more like $50 million, given that more revenues for the team also means bigger revenue-sharing checks to the rest of MLB — that’s undeniably public money, but not actually a special subsidy, since it’s a tax credit that anyone can avail themselves of if they’re rehabbing a landmarked building. Whether you think historic preservation credits are a good idea in the first place likely depends on your feelings about whether you think maintaining historic buildings is a public good — I’d say yes, though a cumulative 40% tax credit seems a bit richer than necessary — but that’s a larger issue to take up with the U.S. Congress and Massachusetts legislature.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts spent $20 million this week to buy a McDonald’s across the street from Wrigley. That would fit well with a Fenway-style redo of Wrigley — the Sox bought several buildings adjacent to Fenway for office and kitchen operations, though those weren’t across the street from the stadium as the McDonald’s building is from Wrigley. Still, it looks like Ricketts intends on spending some more time trying to squeeze some stadium cash out of the city of Chicago before he commits to anything like that.