The latest escalation in the dispute over Wrigley Field’s renovation unfolded Monday, with the Cubs revealing they sought final city approval to put up a beer advertising sign in right field and rooftop club owners threatening to sue to block the installation.
Despite the sniping, the two sides say they still are trying to reach agreement that will allow them to avoid the courts as the Ricketts family that owns the team tries to achieve liftoff on a $300 million ballpark renovation and $200 million neighborhood redevelopment.
“They are continuing to try to talk, though,” said Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, who has been attempting to broker a solution at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s request. “My impression is that even if and when there is a lawsuit (trying to block the right field sign) filed, they will continue to try to find a solution short of having a judge impose a decision on them.”
The Wrigley Field project has been marked by round after round of public posturing and leverage seeking as the rooftop owners try to preserve their lucrative views into the ballpark and the Cubs organization attempt to strike a deal to avoid a lawsuit so that construction can begin without delay. The Ricketts family, which borrowed money to buy the team from Tribune Co. in 2009, is relying on new revenue to pay for the renovation and bolster the roster to improve the team’s lackluster on-field performance.
On Monday, Cubs officials said they filed an electronic application late Friday asking the city for a permit to build a 650-square-foot sign in right field, one that would partially block rooftop views. The size and placement of the sign already have been approved, so the administrative sign off on the permit is something of a formality.
But the Cubs were quick to note that the effort to get the right field sign up should not be considered a signal that the team is ready to move forward with the entire renovation.
“Since last summer, we always stated our intent to move forward with this sign in right field prior to the 2014 season, and we were hopeful we could reach a resolution at the negotiating table,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. “But given the rejection of our proposal...it certainly appears we are going to be met with some resistance, so we are planning on moving forward with this sign.”
Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the rooftop owners, confirmed that there are plans for the two sides to meet again this week, but he also said the rooftop group is preparing to file a lawsuit to prevent the right field sign from going up.
“This is an unfortunate turn of events, because our hope was to find a solution to this matter,” McLaughlin said in a statement. “Rooftop owners believe any blockage of our views violates the (revenue sharing) contract we have with the owners of the Cubs. We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly.”
The rooftop owners have consistently maintained that blockage of their views by the two outfield signs would violate both their agreement and a landmark ordinance protecting the historic ballpark.
That stance caused the team to hold off on launching any aspect of the renovation — the terms of which were approved last year by the City Council after a long series of negotiations involving Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney and Emanuel. Several aspects were revised after hearings last fall.
The ballpark dispute has been back in the news the last couple weeks after Ricketts made comments at the annual Cubs convention that some rooftop owners viewed as disparaging.
A few days later, negotiations hit an impasse over placement of the right field Budweiser sign despite a verbal agreement to move it to a rooftop, O’Connor said. Differences also remained over the size and placement of a 5,700-square-foot video board in left field, he added.
As negotiations stalled, the rooftop owners sued sports business consultant Marc Ganis for comments he made about the feud in a lawsuit that also named the Cubs and several media outlets. The suit centers on an article published in the Sun-Times in January 2013 in which Ganis is quoted as saying the rooftop clubs were “stealing” the Cubs product for their own profit.
Meanwhile, 44th Ward alderman Tunney announced the cancelation of an annual meeting between the Cubs and neighborhood residents that was set for Tuesday, citing the cold weather.
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