Cubs’ battle with rooftop owners now headed to court, as God intended

As of early last week, the Chicago Cubs owners were reportedly making good progress in negotiations with rooftop owners over their planned Wrigley Field renovations, with “Cubs executives [saying] they have made significant progress in negotiating with rooftop owners in the past two weeks” and team president Crane Kenney saying, “I feel confident we’re working our way toward the finish line here.”

Then, this happened:

The Cubs privately declared their intention to apply for a city permit to put up a 650-square-foot, see-through sign in right field that, the rooftop owners claim, will block their bird’s-eye view of the century-old stadium.

The decision to take immediate advantage of a sign already authorized by the City Council was made after a stormy negotiating session Tuesday and after rooftop club owners filed a defamation lawsuit against a stadium financing consultant who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co.

“Everything fell apart” at that meeting, said a source close to the negotiations.

And then this:

In a statement reacting to today’s earlier news that the Chicago Cubs have applied for a permit to build a large right-field sign at Wrigley Field, the rooftops released a statement saying that they will sue.

“Rooftop owners believe a blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs,” said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. “We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly.”

At issue is this sign, which Cubs owner Tom Ricketts wants to erect behind the right-field bleachers, and which the rooftop owners say would be in violation of their contract to provide a cut of their revenues to the Cubs in exchange for unimpeded views of the game. The key clause in the contract, as reported by CSN Chicago’s David Kaplan, who got ahold of the actual language, is this:

6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

The big question is going to be whether a new ad sign counts as an “expansion of Wrigley Field” or not. Contract lawyers (all unnamed) quoted by Kaplan seem to think that Ricketts will likely be able to argue that it is — “I think it is probably going to go the Cubs’ way, but it is not a slam dunk,” said one — but even more likely is an out-of-court settlement once everyone gets a better sense which way the legal winds are blowing.

For now, anyway, it means one more season without a giant ad board and electronic scoreboard in the Wrigley bleachers. Which at least gives some reason to go see the Cubs this year.

Chicago council rubber-stamps Wrigley street encroachment, ad arch, night games

The Chicago city council approved almost everything Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was asking for yesterday — the expansion of 25 feet into Waveland and Sheffield Streets, extra night games, and the “branding arch” over Clark Street — all except for an outdoor liquor license for Wrigley Field’s new outdoor plaza, which is still being worked on. And here is how the Chicago Sun-Times reported it:

Mayor pressures Cubs to start swinging on Wrigley construction after council votes

Yeah, that’ll show ‘em! Approve their entire wish list to Santa, and then they’ll be sure to learn their lesson about not being naughty, or tardy, or whatever Ricketts is being by refusing to do the renovations that he proposed for his own benefit in the first place.

Anyway, Mayor Rahm Emanuel only said that he expects “them and the other invested interests — meaning also the rooftops — to resolve their issues so the whole city can benefit,” which isn’t exactly threatening to lock them in a room without supper until they resolve whether the big ad boards that will block the view from the rooftops will block them so much that the rooftop owners can sue under their contract with the Cubs, or if Ricketts will keep holding off on construction without a no-lawsuits promise. But anyway, Emanuel can always still threaten that if Ricketts doesn’t settle things, he’ll get the council to refuse to approve the changes that the Cubs owner is asking … d’oh!

Tom Tunney now fighting himself over proposed Wrigley changes

The Chicago city council took up the latest iterations of Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ Wrigley Field renovation plan this week, and they didn’t actually entirely rubber-stamp everything! Yet, anyway:

The revised Wrigley plan now heads to the full council for a vote, where everything will no doubt get worked out between Tunney and himself. Whether anything ever actually gets built, since Ricketts is still insisting on a no-lawsuits pledge before breaking ground, is another story.


Post-Thanksgivukkah stadium news roundup: Cubs beer sales, World Cup crane collapse, Vikings steel imbroglio

So it’s Thanksgivukkah+1, meaning that most of you are either sleeping off turkey latke comas or looking for Black Friday deals on smartphone-enabled Furbies. But there might be somebody sitting in an otherwise-empty office today scouring the web for things to read, so what to do? I know — bullet points, to cover some items that slipping through the cracks while we were focused on more urgent (or at least more bizarre) matters:

  • Chicago alderman Tom Tunney, the sometimes-nemesis of Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ Wrigley Field renovation plans, has proposed a new “sports venue plaza liquor license” that would allow any sports stadium with a capacity of 30,000 or more — in other words, the Cubs, White Sox, or Bears — to sell alcohol in adjacent pedestrian plazas. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing or anything — given Wrigley’s small footprint, it wouldn’t hurt to get some of the beer-buying activity out of the baseball-watching part of the building — but it is a concession to the team, just as the Boston Red Sox‘ ability to use Yawkey Way for food sales is — and at the very least something you’d think the city could trade off with Ricketts in exchange for, say, not putting up illuminated ad archways over city streets. It also probably won’t make local bars too happy that Cubs fans will have more places to drink inside the park, but them’s the breaks.
  • Brazil’s much-beleaguered World Cup preparations got even more beleaguered on Wednesday when a crane collapsed at a stadium under construction in São Paolo, killing two workers and likely delaying the stadium’s opening until at least February. The World Cup doesn’t start until June, but still, the crane accident is only likely to exacerbate the cost overruns that have many Brazilians wondering why the hell anybody would want to host a World Cup anyway?
  • Construction is about to begin on the new $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium, and former state representative who Tom Rukavina is upset that the structural steel will be imported from Europe instead of brought in from Minnesota’s Iron Range, as required “to the extent practicable” by a provision that Rukavina inserted in the stadium bill. Only problem: The Iron Range doesn’t actually directly produce structural steel. Anyway, the Gov. Mark Dayton has promised that Minnesota firms will be on the job fabricating parts from the steel, so everyone can rest easy about the project. Except for, you know, all the money it’s costing Minnesota taxpayers to create a few steel-fabricating jobs.

And that’s enough for now — if you really want to read Marcos Breton’s latest puff piece talking about how awesome the Sacramento Kings arena will be for downtown, do it on your own time. See you Monday.

Ricketts flat-out gives up on pretending Wrigley renovations are about anything but big honking ads

There’s yet another proposed addition to the Wrigley Field renovation plan, and dear lord:

So that’s basically a wrought-iron-looking lit-up advertising sign that would stretch across the whole of Clark Street, serving the purpose of … well, of making Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts money. Previous plans for Clark Street included an ad-festooned pedestrian overpass, but that was shot down for reasons I’m really not clear on by local alderman Tom Tunney.

Leaving just the ads, though, is apparently A-OK with everybody, which makes sense given that this deal is increasingly turning into “I’ll build myself some new clubhouses and concessions stands if the city agrees to let me put ads on everything inside, outside, and within a couple-block radius of the ballpark.” It’s better than giving the Cubs cash, sort of — though it’s worth noting that if Chicago thinks it’s okay to put illuminate ad signage over its streets, it could sell them itself and keep the money for its own purposes — but on the other hand, dear lord:

The Chicago Plan Commission voted in favor of the archway last Thursday; the city council is expected to rubber-stamp it in coming weeks.


Ricketts now looking at shifting Wrigley Field wall 25 feet onto Sheffield Avenue

This is from WGN-TV so it’s all reported in sentence fragments, but it looks like Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is trying another tactic in response to complaints about the view-blocking ad signage he wants to erect behind the Wrigley Field bleachers:

The Chicago Landmarks Commission approved a plan that would push back the right field wall even further.
The original plan was seven feet, but now it will be pushed back 15 feet.
Sheffield will have to be narrowed, and some parking will be eliminated.
The Cubs say this would minimize how much their new 650-square-foot see-through billboard above right field will block rooftop views.

This sounds like the return of the right-field party deck that was proposed by Ricketts this summer, then dropped in September, but which is apparently now back under consideration now that the rooftop owners are threatening to sue if they can’t see past the signage.

Al Yellon’s SBNation blog has a bit more on this, including that the total distance the outer wall may be moved is more like 25 feet, but still not much hard info. It’s pretty remarkable how the Chicago Landmarks Commission has rubber-stamped anything Ricketts has asked for without dissent, though; it’s almost like they know which side their bread is buttered on.

Cubs try out new see-through sign at Wrigley, discover “see-through sign” is a misnomer

The Chicago Cubs did a test run of their new right-field advertising board this week, using a crane to temporarily hoist a sign reading “Wrigley Field” into position atop the right-field bleachers. Writes SBNation Cubs blogger Al Yellon:

From what I could tell, it didn’t seem as if the views from any of the seats actually on that rooftop — likely the only one that would be even partially blocked by such a sign — would have any trouble still seeing the field. It’s possible that some views from levels below the rooftop might have some blockage, but then, people who are inside are even less likely to be paying attention to the game than those on the actual rooftop.

So that doesn’t sound too bad. Let’s check out an actual photo of the view from a roof:

If that photo is accurate — it appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, and just says “provided photo,” so not clear who actually took it or from where — that could be a little bit of a problem, yeah. And rooftop owners immediately threatened to file suit if a sign (the actual one would apparently read “BUDWEISER”) is made permanent, under the contract they have with the Cubs to give the team a cut of revenues in exchange for rooftop patrons being allowed to peer in on the games:

“We’ve been crystal clear. Any sign that blocks the views of the rooftops will result in legal action. This violates a contract that the Cubs have with rooftop owners” that requires the clubs to share 17 percent of their revenues with the team, rooftops spokesman Ryan McLaughlin said in a statement.

The Cubs management response, meanwhile, starts to make clear what the team’s legal strategy is likely to be in this case:

“Every one of these rooftops still has a view inside this ballpark. I didn’t say the same view. But, we believe every rooftop partner will be able to have a view inside the ballpark,” [Cubs spokesperson Julian] Green said.

So there you go: Even if new ad signage obstructs the view from the rooftops, it doesn’t totally obstruct the view. Without seeing the actual contract language it’s tough to say, but that doesn’t exactly sound like the winningest legal strategy. Though it is still better than “Don’t sue, or I’ll shoot my own renovation plans.” Besides, this is the Cubs, after all, so maybe expecting them to come up with winning strategies is a bit much.

Cubs sued by apartment owner, NY Giants sued by zombie Lehman Brothers

The owner of an apartment building across from Wrigley Field is suing to block the Chicago Cubs‘ planned hotel construction on the grounds that the city council didn’t follow proper zoning rules, and that its approval of the project was “arbitrary and capricious.” Read the complaint here if you like; I don’t know enough about Chicago zoning law to say whether it has any merit, but given that the landlord is seeking just $6 million in damages on a $500 million project, this seems at worst something that can be settled out of court.

And anyway, that wasn’t even the craziest stadium-related lawsuit filed yesterday. That honor would go to Lehman Brothers suing the New York Giants over canceled interest-rate swap contracts that were used to hedge the team’s stadium bonds. Yes, that Lehman Brothers. Yes, I sort of understand what interest-rate swap contracts are. No, I don’t understand exactly what the lawsuit is over, though apparently it has to do with who had to pay whom how much when the interest rate swaps were cancelled because Lehman was suffering total existence failure; what’s left of Lehman thinks it’s owed $94 million plus interest, while the Giants think … well, the Reuters article in question doesn’t actually say what the Giants think. And given that it also says that Met Life Stadium is both wholly owned by the Giants, and also jointly owned by the Giants and Jets, neither of which is actually true (it’s owned by the state of New Jersey — hello, no property taxes! — and jointly operated by the two teams), maybe we’ll just have to wait for someone else to explain this. If we really care beyond “Giants being sued by zombie financial company.”


Wrigley renovation battle enters new, interminable phase

Did I really write way back in July of Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ renovation plan for Wrigley Field, “And it’s done“? Man, what was I thinking? This is never going to be done:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to give the Cubs more flexibility on scheduling night games at Wrigley Field, and the team has agreed to drop a proposed pedestrian bridge over Clark Street from its $500 million renovation plan.

Yes, the city council has already voted on the plan, but apparently in Chicago first you vote, then you decide what it is that you voted for. The new Emanuel plan, introduced at last night’s council meeting, would reduce the total number of night games per year from 46 to 43, but give the Cubs more flexibility in rescheduling them at the last minute (which MLB’s TV partners like to do when they suddenly decide a game is important enough to air in prime time — something it’s hard to picture ever applying to a Cubs game, but anyway). Plus the pedestrian bridge will be nixed, which the Chicago Tribune calls “good news for neighborhood groups,” though it’s not entirely clear why.

Anyway, nothing is being built anytime soon regardless, because Ricketts still won’t move ahead with doing anything without a promise from rooftop owners not to sue for breach of their contract with the team if renovations block their views, and the rooftop owners are making no promises. Which led last week to alderman Tom Tunney, formerly the main opponent of the Wrigley renovation, loudly demanding to know when the Cubs are going to get started, already.

Actually, maybe I don’t want this to ever end. It’s way more entertaining than watching the Cubs.

Emanuel to let Cubs expand Wrigley into public streets for free

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has finally revealed how much Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts will have to pay to expand the Wrigley Field bleachers out ten feet onto public streets: nothing. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

The Emanuel administration initially promised an appraisal to determine the appropriate level of compensation.

That’s the normal policy whenever street, sidewalk and alley “vacations” are done for developers.

On Wednesday, City Hall reversed field: There will be no appraisal, because no additional compensation will be required.

A top mayoral aide disclosed that the $4.75 million the Cubs have promised Wrigleyville — including $1 million to build a park on School Street and $3.75 million over 10 years for neighborhood infrastructure projects of the community’s choosing — would be enough.

If you count that $4.75 million as payment, it sounds not great but not terrible — about the equivalent of the $7.34 million the Boston Red Sox are paying for use of Yawkey Way, though that’s also been criticized as too cheap. (I don’t think the Cubs deal would include paying for use of the street for concessions on game days, but the Sun-Times article isn’t specific about this.) Counting it as the Cubs’ fee for taking up street space, though, seems a bit unfair given that it’s already been promised as a team contribution in exchange for other concessions — the Cubs’ own website describes it as a way to “give back to the community and invest in Lakeview’s future” and to compensate the neighborhood for allowing more night games and concerts.

We’d have a better sense of how cushy a deal this is for Ricketts if the city would appraise the value of the land rights, but since Emanuel has said he won’t be doing this, we can only guess. (I’m giving it a 6.5 on the cushometer.) All this is expected to be rubber-stamped voted on after serious debate at an October 16 city council meeting, after which Ricketts can go back to not starting any renovation work until he’s arm-twisted local rooftop owners into agreeing not to sue him. It’s a tough life, but I guess anything’s better than spending the next six months looking at Starlin Castro’s stat line.