Now that Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has a renovation plan kinda sorta ready to go, even if all the details are still up in the air, comes word that the team plans on applying for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. While the Cubs owners have long chafed at being on Chicago’s city landmarks list, this would be a whole nother kettle of fish, as it would make the team eligible for tens of millions of dollars worth of tax credits to help them pay for renovations.
Today’s Chicago Tribune article by Ameet Sachdev (which also quotes me) gives a decent rundown of the basics of the historic preservation credits, which were previously used by the Boston Red Sox for their rehabbing of Fenway Park:
The government help would basically reimburse the family for some of the $300 million it plans to spend on the stadium. The historic-preservation tax credit is equal to 20 percent of qualified rehabilitation costs.
It’s unknown how much of the Wrigley work would qualify for the tax break, but the restoration of Fenway Park in Boston provides a guidepost. The Boston Red Sox spent about $285 million to upgrade their stadium, a 10-year project that was completed in 2011. Published reports estimated the team was eligible for $40 million in tax credits.
That’s true as far as it goes, but possibly not the whole story when it comes to what the Cubs would be eligible for. I talked this morning with Erika Tarlin of Save Fenway Park!, who was involved in the planning and implementation of the Red Sox tax credit application. As she explained it, in Boston there were actually two tax credit programs: One a federal program, administered by the National Park Service (which oversees the National Register), that reimbursed up to 10% of preservation expenses, the other a state-run program that paid for an additional 20%. Illinois doesn’t appear to have a state program that would apply to Chicago, which would leave it with only the federal tax credits; those, however, will provide credits of up to 20% of costs in some circumstances.
For both the federal and state programs, says Tarlin, there were strings attached to the cash: “You’re not just given money. You have to meet really really stringent preservation standards.” (One example she gives from the Fenway renovations was ensuring that the mortar used in building new brick walls was of a historically accurate composition.) This would seem to rule out using tax credits to pay for major overhauls such as a humongous video board, or possibly even some of the more 21st-century amenities that the Cubs owners are envisioning shoehorning into Wrigley.
But could the Ricketts family take tax credits for rehabbing the historic parts of Wrigley, while putting up modern scoreboards and mammoth ad signage at the same time? That’s less clear — in Massachusetts, says Tarlin, the rule is that five years after historic tax credits are received, you’re free to do whatever you want with the property. The National Park Service does publish a long list of requirements for properties to receive its credits, though, including that “the historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved,” and that new features “shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.”
And, of course, Wrigley is still a Chicago landmark, which means the city landmarks commission could rule out some of the more ambitious ad board plans, though if Mayor Rahm Emanuel is on board with them, it’s less likely that his appointees on the commission will raise a stink.
I have calls out to a couple of Chicago preservation experts, and will post an update once I get more info.