Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a message to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts on Wednesday: You dropped the ball in clearly communicating the latest version of a Wrigley Field renovation, and my administration won’t be rushed into approving more electronic advertising signs and another video board for the historic stadium.
But Ricketts’ renewed push for more revenue-enhancing advertisements for the ballpark also puts the mayor in bit of a squeeze play.
Emanuel wants to be able to declare a political victory by cutting the ribbon after the Cubs spend hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate the park with no major public subsidies. But if the mayor gives the Cubs all the additional signs and Wrigley alterations they’ve asked for after already giving the team almost all of the stadium improvements it sought last year, he risks the appearance that the Cubs and Ricketts managed to push him around.
On Wednesday, Emanuel sought to slow the sense of urgency the Cubs tried to create with the team’s latest unveiling of plans this week. While Cubs officials had indicated the latest plan would be considered at a June 5 hearing of the city Commission on Landmarks, 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. That could lead to changes in the ivied walls protected by the city’s landmark ordinance.
But 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.”
A Ricketts spokesman gave a diplomatic response, saying the team was willing to discuss its bullpen plans. Nevertheless, the team continued to portray plan approval as all but inevitable.
“We are happy to address any questions about the bullpen doors or the bullpen relocation,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said in an email. “The Cubs look forward to resolving these last few issues so we can begin construction as soon as possible.”
The communications problem with City Hall represents the latest public relations gaffe by Ricketts since he began his attempt to revamp Wrigley Field nearly four years ago.
In November 2010, Ricketts pitched a plan to borrow up to $300 million to finance a Wrigley renovation and then use a portion of city amusement taxes collected at Wrigley Field to pay off the debt. Ricketts later floated a couple variations on that idea, but city and state leaders weren’t on board, and it went nowhere.
In May 2012, Emanuel was mulling the idea of providing the amusement tax or other city revenue to help renovate the stadium. But then came the news that Joe Ricketts, the conservative billionaire family patriarch, had been presented with a plan to run racially tinged attack ads against President Barack Obama.
The ad plan ended up not going forward, but Emanuel expressed outrage and said he did not talk to Tom Ricketts for months after that. The public funding plan went kaput.
Last week, Ricketts unveiled his revised plan that seeks more signs, suggesting that if rooftop owners with lucrative views into the ballpark were going to sue anyway, he might as well get more of what he wants in a renovation deal. The rooftop owners have a 20-year revenue-sharing contract with the Cubs that runs through 2023.
The team wants five more signs in the outfield, beyond the two approved last year, a second video board and an expansion of the bleachers. Those aspects had been discussed with city officials in previous months.
Ricketts wanted to start work next month, but there is not another Landmarks Commission meeting until July. Commissioners could call a special meeting before then, however.
The mayor also is unlikely to grant the Cubs all aspects of their latest renovation plan, the Emanuel source said, but declined to offer specifics, citing City Hall’s ongoing review of the proposal.
“I do think there’s a place . . . to land this where the owners are allowed to modernize Wrigley Field, invest in the surrounding neighborhood — the things like parks, playgrounds, traffic, security — that have been shortchanged in the past, and do it in a way that meets everybody’s objectives,” Emanuel said.
The team already has committed to making millions of dollars in investments in the Wrigleyville neighborhood, as part of the compromise approved last year that included a less-intense renovation plan, permission for more night games and the construction of a nearby hotel, plaza and retail-office building.
That deal came after months of negotiations involving city officials, 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney and owners of the rooftop clubs with lucrative views into the century-old ballpark.