Rooftop owners finally sue over Wrigley ad signs, but as landmarks violation, not contract breach

Jeez, finally:

Owners of the rooftop clubs near Wrigley Field sued the city Thursday, seeking to block a city-backed plan that will allow the Cubs to expand the aging ballpark.

The rooftop owners derided the improvement plan as “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.”

None of those things are illegal, though, so the rooftop owners actually sued the city for violating its own landmarks rules (specifically, the 2004 landmark designation that protected “the unenclosed, open-air character, the exposed structure system and generally uninterrupted ‘sweep’ and contour of the grandstand and bleachers”) and depriving them of property rights (since the Cubs, who aren’t a defendant in the suit, would be able to strong-arm them into giving up their rooftop businesses).

You can read the full complaint here. I’m not going to begin to guess what kind of shot this has in court, but it is interesting that the rooftop owners are suing over violations of the landmarks designation, not their contract with the Cubs, as they implied they would back in January. There’s certainly a good philosophical argument to be made that the landmarks commission shouldn’t be able to just change its mind about what a landmark is — I’ve made it myself — but that’s a long way from a legal argument.

At least it looks like this suit — and the ultimate verdict on the Wrigley redo — is going to be fought over something resembling issues of public policy, and not just contract law. That not only makes more sense, but potentially allows for rulings along the lines of “You can put up some ad signs, but only if they don’t change the character of Wrigley too drastically,” which I think most people who are conflicted over the renovation plan would consider a more meaningful compromise than “Do whatever you want, but pay the rooftop owners a pile of money for breaking their contract.”

Chicago landmarks board okays Cubs putting ad signs wherever the hell they want at Wrigley

As expected, the Chicago landmarks commission approved Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ revised plans for Wrigley Field renovations, unanimously even. That’s revised upwards from two outfield ad signs to seven, and with new expanded decks in the bleachers over public streets, and with new seating along the foul lines and the bullpens moved under the bleachers, but hey, he waited a month and made the bullpen doors smaller, so what’s not to approve?

The only thing standing in the way of renovations beginning immediately, it appears, is a lasuit from the neighboring rooftop owners charging that the ad signage would block their view in violation of their contact with the Cubs — but given that they still haven’t filed a lawsuit after talking about it for six months, Ricketts really could start work tomorrow and nobody would be able to stop him. It’s still possible that legal action could be filed and delay things a bit longer, but if you want to see Wrigley before this (only with corporate logos wherever it says “Cubs”), you should probably get your tickets now.

Rooftop owners say they won’t file vaporlawsuit if Cubs scrap all but two video boards

Whoa, check it out!

Rooftop owners have an offer for the Chicago Cubs, to avoid a lawsuit over Wrigley Field renovations.

And what would that be?

The rooftop owners say they will not sue the Cubs if the team installs only two new signs.

That’s two (a new scoreboard and one new ad sign) instead of the seven that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts wants, so no surprise that Cubs management ignored the offer and said they’ll push ahead with trying to get all seven signs approved by the Chicago landmarks commission this week. Not to tell the rooftop owners how to do their job or anything, but if they’re going to keep holding out a promise to drop their lawsuit in exchange for concessions, they might want to actually file a lawsuit someday. Just an idea.

Cubs: We went to our room and thought about it, now can we have our giant ad signs?

It looks like Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is going to have to pay the price for suddenly upping his demands for Wrigley Field renovations to include seven ad boards, further expansion of the bleachers, and relocated bullpens without even warning the mayor in advance, and that price is … he’ll get everything he wanted, but have to make his bullpen doors smaller.

The Cubs said Monday they’re on the July 10 agenda for the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and expect to win approval for their revised plan to renovate Wrigley Field — including seven outfield signs, two of them video scoreboards — after a tweak to accommodate Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Of course, it’s always possible that Cubs execs didn’t ask Emanuel before making this statement, either, but I’m guessing they actually know what they’re talking about. Especially given that throwing a hissy fit and then eventually letting Ricketts have everything he asked for is exactly how Emanuel handled things last year.

Assuming the landmarks commission okays the plan next week, the only remaining obstacle would be a legal challenge from neighboring rooftop owners that the ad boards would violate their contract with the Cubs by blocking their views — a suit they still haven’t actually filed despite threatening to do so for months now. The rooftop owners did sue sports consultant Marc Ganis for libel for calling them “carpetbaggers stealing the product paid for by others for their own profit” — a suit that was dismissed yesterday. Which should come as no surprise, as believing that you’re right is a strong libel defense, and if there’s one thing that Ganis has made clear in his long career, it’s that he believes that the people signing his checks are always right.

Tribune’s Cubs writer blames Wrigley reno holdup on bleeding-heart ivy lovers

Attention, budding journalists! Today we present a lesson in the many different ways to report a story. For example, say that the rich guy who owns the local sports team has abruptly changed his plans for renovating his landmarked home field and demanded a landmarks commission hearing on the double — without warning the mayor, who responded by telling said rich guy to cool his jets, the commission will get to it when he gets to it. You could write that up, well, the way I just did there. Or you could go the route of Chicago Tribune Cubs beat reporter Paul Sullivan:

It may seem ridiculous to some, but for love of ivy a massive $375 million project once again has been put on hold.

Yeah! Stupid ivy!

Cubs offer to bend on bullpen doors to get Wrigley reno fast-tracked

ESPN’s Jon Greenberg says Chicago Cubs execs think they can placate Mayor Rahm Emanuel by leaving the Wrigley Field bullpen doors alone:

“We’re ready, the revised package is done. We’ve communicated that we’re ready to take the bullpen doors [off the table]. I want to make that clear. There’s been some confusion about the bullpen doors and the location of the bullpen. We’re prepared to take the bullpen doors off the table for the landmarks…

“As far as we heard, that was a sticking point for the commission,” [Cubs vice president of communications Julian] Green said. “We are prepared to keep the outfield doors just the way they are so we can move forward. Obviously, we can revisit some of those things later.”

This is what’s called an olive branch. (Or maybe in this case an ivy twig.) Given Emanuel’s well-known record, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is probably better off just letting the mayor curse at him for a month then wait for it to blow over, but then, given that Green told this to Greenberg and not to the mayor, this is likely more for public consumption than for City Hall’s. The Cubs are trying to be reasonable, people! They’ll back off of changing the landmarked bullpen doors for now and only ask to change them later! Because that’s the kind of mensches they are!

Rooftop owners fire back at Ricketts, eschew building own death ray for now

Finally, the rooftop owners have been heard from in the Wrigley Field fight:

A lawyer for Wrigley Field’s rooftop owners accused Cubs owner Tom Ricketts today of having “buyer’s remorse” and asserted that’s no good reason for the team to break a long-term revenue-sharing deal with his clients.

In his first interview since the rooftops retained him in an upcoming legal war over expanded signage at Wrigley, Charles Tompkins made his view clear that the rooftops and not the team are the offended party in the continuing Wrigley rebuild drama. He gave every indication that that argument will become the basis of a court action, perhaps within days.

Okay, fine, all well and good, retaliatory blow in the media war and all, but wake me when we get to the lawsuit, okay?

For all the excitement, this is ultimately going to come down to a judge (or more likely arbitrator) somewhere ruling on whether “expansion” means “expansion of seating” or “adding structures onto the building,” which may be a boring semantic debate, but it’s the only semantic debate that is going to make any difference.

Emanuel to Cubs: If you’re going to be like that, no June vote on Wrigley renovations for you

Are pretty pictures distracting or what? In my rush to report on the Chicago Cubs‘ latest round of renovation plans for Wrigley Field, I neglected to mention that Cubs president Crane Kenney dropped a threat to move out of Chicago if the city doesn’t let the team have its way:

“If we don’t control our ballpark, then we have to look at other options, and we would work with the city on that,” Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said. “We would first look in the city.”

“Look at other options” is the sports-handbook-approved way of brandishing the move threat saber — see the Los Angeles Angels, the Sacramento Kings, et al. — so don’t put too much stock into this, especially since the team’s revenues would almost certainly plummet if they moved to the suburbs. (And moving elsewhere in the city would require the approval of the same city government that’s set to determine how much Cubs owner Tom Ricketts “controls his ballpark” as far as putting ad signage all over it.) What it does indicate is that this means war.

It may seems strange for Kenney to be going to war with an opponent who has been happy to concede to any and all of his demands so far, but there are some early signs that the love affair between the Cubs and the city over renovations has hit a rocky patch:

While Cubs officials had indicated the latest plan would be considered at a June 5 hearing of the city Commission on Landmarks, [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel said that won’t happen.

“This recent submission is not ready for next week,” Emanuel said of the Cubs’ proposal. “They have work to do.”

An Emanuel administration source said the Cubs failed to share some details about the latest expansion plan with the mayor and senior City Hall officials, including relocating the ballpark’s bullpens to underneath the bleachers. … The mayor also is frustrated that the Cubs are returning to City Hall seeking more signs after a deal already had been carefully crafted last year, the source said.

“There are things like the bullpen that nobody had ever seen before,” Emanuel said after the City Council meeting. “And so that’s why it’s not ready for next week and they have their work to do.”

The Chicago Tribune speculates that Emanuel wants the “political victory” of getting Wrigley renovations done, but not “the appearance that the Cubs and Ricketts managed to push him around.” So either this is for political show, or Ricketts and Kenney actually managed to annoy Emanuel with their last-second additional demands, and he’s going to make them wait outside like bad dogs before … probably having the new plans approved, but not until July? That would be my guess, given how this has played out so far.

Meanwhile, Kenney’s saber-rattling serves to keep up the “we have to do something for the Cubs or they’ll leave!” pressure, which serves him and Emanuel, really. Just like the last time he threatened to move while denying he was threatening to move. Because that’s what sports team execs do.

Ricketts: Screw everybody, I’m starting Wrigley renovations in July

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts now says he’s going to break ground on planned renovations to Wrigley Field in July, no matter what the neighboring rooftop owners say with their “contracts” and “lawsuits.” The first stage will apparently be entirely underground — expanding the Cubs’ team clubhouse — but, assuming the city landmarks commission signs off on the plan next week, you can still probably expect the rooftop owners to seek some kind of court injunction, given that the latest plans would block even more of their views of the field.

The Cubs have also issued new renderings of what the latest renovation plan would look like if all the ad signs were replaced by the word “Cubs”:

Here’s another view from right field, with the bullpens relocated to under the bleachers:

It all doesn’t look too awful, but then, it’s hard to guess how well these images will correspond with the reality — it’s unlikely, for example, that all the ad signs and video boards will stick to the understated white-and-green color scheme shown in the drawings. Part of the charm of Wrigley — okay, most of the charm of Wrigley — is that you’re not bombarded by flashing video and advertisements during the game, so any change to that should be very carefully considered, if not by Ricketts (who should be worrying about whether he’ll drive off fans in exchange for selling their eyeballs to advertisers) then by the landmarks commission, since it is their job, after all.

The Wrigley Field situation has developed into a strange one, since instead of the usual team owner demanding cash, you have a team owner demanding only that he be approved to spend his own money to do things to his stadium that the law — and possibly those rooftop contracts — doesn’t presently allow. It’s a mix of fan improvements (roomier concessions areas), behind-the-scenes items (that expanded clubhouse), some changes to the seating itself (there’s been one report that the “Steve Bartman” seat down the left-field line would be eliminated, though I’m unclear why), and the right to festoon everything in sight with ad signage, including things that aren’t even part of Wrigley Field. By lumping them all together, Ricketts has been trying to make the case that “Hey, all I’m trying to do is improve my stadium with my own money,” but it’s actually more a quid pro quo: If the city okays the ad boards, he’ll take the revenues from that and use them to build himself a more lavish, modern baseball palace, one that may or may not be better for Cubs fans, but which will undoubtedly be better for his bottom line.

And the oddest part of all is that whether all this happens or not will depend not on public debates, but how a judge rules on the minutiae of a contract with the rooftop owners that was signed a decade ago. We live in a weird-ass kind of democracy.

Ricketts honors Wrigley’s 100th by proposing seven new ad boards, chopping hole in ivy wall

With his plans for major renovations to Wrigley Field held up in court, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has apparently decided to go for broke and just demand everything he can possibly imagine, testing the premise that Chicago officials will rubber-stamp anything he proposes and daring the owners of nearby rooftop viewing decks to sue him. Like every good supervillain, he issued his ultimatum via a video to the people of earth:

The list of new stuff that Ricketts wants includes:

  • Seven new video boards in the outfield, including three 650-square-foot signs in left field alongside a 4,000-square-feet video board (down from the originally proposed 5,700 square feet), plus another 2,400-square-foot video board and 650-square-foot sign in right.
  • Chopping out part of Wrigley’s ivy-covered brick wall so that bullpens can be moved from foul territory to under the bleachers.
  • New outfield light towers so that flyballs can be better lit.
  • Bigger clubhouses.
  • A death ray. (Not actually mentioned in Ricketts’ video, but you know he’s thinking it.)

The rooftop owners are no doubt going to sue Ricketts’ pants off over these revised plans, but then, they’re suing his pants off anyway, so no skin off his pants. The Chicago landmarks commission still needs to sign off on the new plan at its June 5 meeting — the Chicago Sun-Times speculates that “the revised proposal may appear to be so big as to invite rejection by [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel’s appointees on the Landmarks Commission,” but they’ve never rejected any of Ricketts’ plans before, and an Emanuel spokesperson said yesterday that “if this proposal helps the Cubs get closer to a ballpark renovation this fall … it’s worth taking a look at.” The city council, meanwhile, apparently doesn’t get another vote, because all this falls under the master plan it approved last year.

Anyway, Ricketts’ video does make one thing clear: This renovation is mostly about getting the right to slap ads on everything possible both inside and outside the stadium, because that’s money he could be making that he’s not. (Just look at the way the camera lingers oglingly on the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ advertising signage.) You can understand why Ricketts feels this way (monnnnnnnnnnneyyyyyyyyyyy!); why the landmarks commission should agree to it is another story, but I’m sure they’ll find their reasons.