Lawsuit news! Nothing but lawsuit news!
Yeah. I think you can see why I don’t always report on every piece of lawsuit news: There’s nothing stopping anyone from filing suit for any reason, so while it’s often interesting to know what’s being challenged in court (hey, you never know what might succeed), most of it ends up being just a lot of legal fees signifying nothing, and there are more important things going on. Today’s a slow news day, though, so a perfect day to play catchup, and give you all some information for filling out your restraining order brackets.
The Wrigley Field rooftop owners have filed yet another lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs, adding to their previous suits over landmarking violations and violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by placing signs to block views of rooftop owners they didn’t like. The new charge: price-fixing!
On May 8, 2012, at least nine owners met with Ricketts and Cubs executives. They said that demand for tickets inside Wrigley was declining because the rooftop businesses’ offered discounted tickets, sometimes through Groupon, and game-day tickets. The team asked them to “agree with the Cubs on setting coordinated, minimum ticket prices.”
Ricketts later threatened to block the views unless they agreed to a “price-fixing scheme, stating, ‘whatever you give us is in return for not being blocked.’ ”
The suit also includes charges of fraud and defamation, and probably puppy-kicking for good measure. All of which could conceivably be true, but it’s clear that the rooftop owners’ legal strategy has gone in record time from “threatening to sue but not ever actually doing so” to “throw everything at the wall at once and see what sticks.”
Remember those reports that the Chicago Cubs‘ renovations to the Wrigley Field bleachers might not be quite ready by Opening Day? Well, it is so, so much worse than that:
The left-field bleachers won’t open until May 11 at the earliest while late May is the target for the right-field bleachers, according to Crane Kenney, the Cubs president of business operations. Safety issues will prevent the center-field section from being open before May 11.
Kenney blamed delays in final approval of the renovations, which pushed back the date on which the team placed its steel order, which meant they couldn’t pour concrete as early as they wanted, which meant that they’d have to wait for temperatures to be warm enough to start putting railings and such in place … actually, you’d think that Cubs execs would have remembered that it’s bitterly cold all winter in Chicago, so it’s not clear how they thought they were going to have this ready for Opening Day even if the steel had been ready months ago. Maybe this was a way of making fans give them credit for trying, even if it was just forestalling the inevitable? Maybe this is just the Cubs being the Cubs?
Either way, anyone with bleacher season tickets will now have the choice of getting refunds for the first few weeks of the season, or getting relocated to the grandstand. At least those who get relocated will get to stare at those new video boards starting with game one: Those will be ready to go as scheduled, because they don’t need to wait for any concrete to dry.
So the vision of the Wrigley outfield walls in the spring will likely be bare brick (since the ivy won’t have had time to grow back) with a bunch of empty poured concrete behind it, and then towering scoreboard/ad boards behind them. And likely rooftop owners with flaming torches behind those. Time to re-up my MLB.tv subscription, because I don’t want to miss a minute of this.
The rooftop owners across from Wrigley Field have filed a new court challenge against this winter’s changes to the ballpark’s bleachers, claiming that — stay with me here — the real reason Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts agreed to move some ad boards was not because he needed to in order to get federal historic preservation tax credits, but because he wanted to in order to punish rooftop owners who wouldn’t sell out to him:
“Shortly after the commission announced its July 10, 2014 decision, the Cubs told the rooftops they could either sell their businesses to the Cubs at a fraction of both cost and fair market value or have their businesses destroyed when the Cubs block their views,” according to the complaint.
Facing this threat, several non-plaintiff owners allegedly sold their businesses to the Cubs during summer and fall of 2014…
“The National Park Service objected to the outfield signs approved by the Commission because the excessive size and number of outfield signs would adversely affect the historic and architectural features of Wrigley Field,” the complaint states.
“Instead of substantively modifying the outfield sign plan, the Cubs reconfigured the outfield signs so as to completely block the views of the rooftops the Cubs were unable to purchase and to restore the views of the rooftops the Cubs contracted to purchase,” it continues.
Of course, both explanations could be true: Ordered by the National Park Service to scale back his signage plans or lose the tax credits, Ricketts could well have thought, “Okay, if we can only keep a few signs, let’s keep the ones blocking the views of the rooftops we don’t own.” I’m not exactly sure what would be illegal about this — the rooftop owners are seeking an injunction under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, but Ricketts isn’t a government agency — but we’ll see what a judge says when the rooftop owners’ request for an injunction lands on their desk, I guess.
Renderings! Getcher revised renderings of the Wrigley Field outfield signage!
Ways in which this will diverge from reality: 1) The big neon words won’t say “Wrigley Field” and the like, they’ll be the names of sponsors (a mortgage banker has already put dibs on the “Financial” sign in left field), and 2) the video boards almost certainly won’t be showing white type on a green background all the time, though that would be a cool design decision if they went with it. Also, it looks like the ribbon ad board along the front of the upper deck is still in place here, and the National Park Service has ordered that it be omitted if all of the outfield signage is built, so … check back on opening day, I guess? Or later?
Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamen, in the midst of a column praising the National Park Service for getting Cubs owner Tom Ricketts to scale back on his requested video boards and ad signage if he wants to be eligible for historic preservation tax credits, notes that the NPS got an additional concession in addition to what was reported yesterday:
In another good stroke, the Park Service negotiated a reduction in the length of video ribbon boards on the front of the left and right field grandstands. The agency also played a smart, carrot-and-stick game with the Cubs.
If the team builds all the outfield signs and video boards allowed by the Park Service, the agency’s spokeswoman said, it must eliminate the grandstand-fronting video ribbon boards and replace them with static, billboardlike signs. That’s potentially good news: Wrigley, beloved for its serene, parklike atmosphere, still may avoid a resemblance to the inside of the United Center.
That’s actually a pretty huge deal, as video ribbon boards are arguably more intrusive and harder to ignore than static ad signage. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ricketts chooses ribbon boards over the outfield signs — I have no clue what the relative ad fees are for each — but as Kamen writes, at least “the Park Service has done architecture fans in Chicago and elsewhere a service by doing something the city’s landmarks commission failed to do: It looked carefully and critically at the cumulative impact of all the revenue-generating signs the Cubs want — and how those signs would affect the ballpark’s architecture and the fans’ experience.”
So it turns out that somebody actually can say “no” to Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts: The National Park Service’s qualms about okaying $75 million in preservation tax credits for a renovation that would add a ton of ad signage to Wrigley Field have now reportedly forced Ricketts to adjust some of his plans, eliminating one ad board and shrinking and relocating another:
In addition to reducing the number of proposed signs from seven to six, the Cubs plan to switch the location of the right field video scoreboard with that of a script sign that was to be located behind the Budweiser patio in the right-field bleachers, the source said. That person added that the Cubs also have agreed to reduce the size of the right-field video board but did not provide the exact size of the scoreboard.
The Cubs removed a proposed sign that would have been placed between the new left field video scoreboard and the iconic center field scoreboard, the source said.
So in this rendering, that would mean eliminating the sign that says “Cubs,” and switching the “Cardinals vs. Cubs” sign with the “Wrigley Field” one. (Not that any of these signs will say anything so noncommercial — they’ll all be corporate logos, except the video screen on the odd moments when it’s actually showing game info.) That’s not a huge concession by any means, and whether it’s the difference between a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and not seems kind of silly, but at least it’s still more than the Chicago Landmarks Commission got in exchange for its approval.
And how was your Thanksgiving weekend? I’m guessing better than Chicago Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney, who had to start off his by announcing that renovations to the Wrigley Field bleachers may not be done in time for opening day. When the team tore down the bleachers after last season, it discovered an “antiquated” water main, which had to be replaced, and so one thing led to another and now bleacher ticketholders may have to be relocated to the grandstand for the start of the season, and the ivy may have a backdrop of construction machinery.
All of which should be no surprise to anyone who’s renovated anything, but it still has sportswriters making fun of the Cubs for being the Cubs. Which should also be no surprise to anyone who’s ever been around the Cubs, so really we’re all good here.
Yes, obvious joke headline. But yeah, anyway, the Wrigley Field bleacher teardown really is becoming a minor spectator attraction:
And that visual is drawing crowds of Cubs fans, with cameras in hand, interested in seeing a piece of Chicago history.
“I was coming down the L, I saw the Addison stop and I thought to myself, Wrigley Field… Once in a lifetime chance to see this construction going on,” Chicagoan Doug Karsten said.
Chicagoan Rob Lafrentz added, “I think it’s amazing to watch come down.”
No word yet from the Chicago mayor’s office on how much economic activity the bleacher demolition gawkers are generating.
It’s what Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said he was going to do, but still, ouch:
The happier thought is that these are simple bleachers, they’ve been rebuilt a bunch of times before, and the hope is that Ricketts will be able to put up new ones that look pretty much the same (he did hire an architect to focus on maintaining historical details like the right kind of railings) except with enough supports underneath to hold up a big-ass video board. Still, in the meantime, those with a squeamish nature around wrecking balls and landmarked structures should probably avert your eyes.