Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared yesterday that he’s in the “final stages” of negotiating a deal with Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts for a renovation of Wrigley Field. And then he pretty much refused to say anything else, setting off a flurry of speculation and tea-leaf reading about who exactly will pay for what.
The big question: Will Ricketts get city ticket taxes kicked back to him so he can spend it on renovations, as he’s long wanted? Emanuel said yesterday that “I will not put my money in their field so they can take their money and invest around the field and get greater economic value,” but when asked specifically about entertainment tax money, would say only, “Every piece fits together. I’ll let you know the whole piece when we’re ready.”
The Chicago Sun-Times, meanwhile, citing only “a source familiar with the plan,” says that Emanuel will indeed give ticket tax money to Ricketts, but that the Cubs would still pay a minimum amount in tax, a number that would rise each year — and that if there’s excess money after paying for renovations, some of that would come back to the city. “That protects against the downside,” said the unnamed source. “The city and county will be able to budget for at least that amount, regardless of what happens to attendance.”
Whether this amounts to a major public subsidy, obviously, depends on what that minimum tax number is — if it’s a lot less than what the city can reasonably expect to collect in taxes otherwise, then that’ll be a sizable hit to the city treasury. But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no free lunch here: Either this deal would cost the city boatloads of money, or it’s not going to do much to fund Ricketts’ Wrigley renovation dreams.
We’ll know more when and if Emanuel actually announces a plan, which could be a while, his “final stages” remark notwithstanding. (“The conversations have been productive, but there is no agreement at this time,” his press spokesperson cautioned later yesterday.) Any deal would still need to be approved by the Illinois legislature, but, you know, Illinois legislature.
Also still to be revealed: What exactly a renovation of Wrigley would look like. Cubs president Crane Kenney previously claimed that renovations would mean “you’re going to have to take parts of it down and rebuild it,” which sounds worrisome if you’re a fan of baseball’s second-oldest park — but then again, it’s a description that fits the Boston Red Sox‘ renovation of Fenway Park, and that managed to respect the ballpark’s history while still upgrading the fan experience. We’ll know more when we know more, I guess — unless somebody spots Janet Marie Smith sneaking into Wrigley in a gorilla suit.