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The Ricketts family takes a new tack to get Wrigley Field renovated

Jan 21, 2013, 8:30 AM EDT

Wrigley Field

Since the day they bought the Cubs, the Ricketts family has been trying to get Wrigley Field renovated. For over two years their efforts were focused on getting public funds to do so. This has gone nowhere, mostly because the Ricketts seem to be awful at politics.

Their first attempt was to ask for state money. This despite the fact that the family patriarch, Joe Ricketts, heads a PAC dedicated to ending public wasteful public spending. Public officials in Mesa, Arizona didn’t mind the disconnect, giving them money for their new spring training facility, but politicians in Springfield were not buying it.

When the state told them to pound sand, they asked for the city of Chicago to divert amusement tax money to the ballpark. This was being negotiated for some time and actually looked like it may work. But then Joe Ricketts’ PAC hatched a plan to run racially-tinged anti-Obama ads (they were to feature “a literate black man” so as to deflect accusations of racism). Which, hey, free country. Unfortunately the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, is Obama’s friend and former chief of staff and he was livid about it. That pretty much killed off any city cooperation.

Now Patrick Mooney of reports that the Ricketts have a new plan. This one is different. It presents the possibility of no public funding at all, as long as they can do whatever the hell they want to Wrigley Field and the surrounding area:

The lobbying efforts will revolve around asking the city to ease restrictions on the ancient ballpark, and not begging for public assistance, which had become such a non-starter, especially during a bitter presidential election … The negotiations will center around allowing the Cubs to put up more advertising signage, a move that would take aim at the rooftop owners, and schedule games at times that would maximize revenue … “We’re not a museum,” Ricketts said. “We’re a business.”

This is somewhat logical and less offensive than asking for tax dollars. It’s the Ricketts’ ballpark and the Ricketts’ team. While they were certainly aware of the historic nature of the property they were buying, that property does house a competitive modern business and they should be allowed, within reason, to exploit it for revenue-generating purposes. That “within reason” part seems, at least at first blush, to be being honored inasmuch as Ricketts is claiming that they’re not asking for Wrigley Field’s landmark designation to be revoked and, within that context, there are limits to how radical they can be. It may anger purists to see more advertising and jumbotrons and stuff, but the purists don’t have to pay Edwin Jackson, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

Of course I’m still a bit dubious here. I’m wondering if this is less of a real push to do the Wrigley renovations on their own and more of a high class extortion job: “You got a nice, historical ballpark here. Be a shame if someone commercialized it and used it in a way that disrupted the neighborhood and pissed off the neighbors a lot. Yep, a real shame. Too bad we can’t do anything about it …”

  1. chill1184 - Jan 21, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    The Ricketts family should use their own money if they want to improve their building. Sports welfare is a joke

    • lesnheart - Jan 21, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      If u had read it right they want to, but the city has limitations on them.

  2. dcfan4life - Jan 21, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    At least the Ricketts are bad at getting public money. If Jeff Loria owned Wringley they would have renovated it 3 times by now all with public money…

    • paperlions - Jan 21, 2013 at 9:27 AM

      Only if Miami politicians suddenly held office in Chicago.

      • derklempner - Jan 21, 2013 at 5:13 PM

        Haven’t been to Chicago recently, have you?

      • Old Gator - Jan 21, 2013 at 6:49 PM

        Miami politicians spend a week in Chicago and a week in Caracas as interns….

  3. escapingexile - Jan 21, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    I have a problem with people who have enough money to purchase a sports franchise then have the audacity to ask for help from the public to do anything. For me, it’s the equivalent of you just bought yourself a bmw but, in doing so, you have leveraged yourself so much that you need welfare.

    • paepae805 - Jan 21, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      I agree with your statement about public money, but look at what the cubs/or any professional franchise does for the area. How many jobs are created directly or indirectly because of the Cubs. Look at the property values for the area. High property values equals a greater tax base for county/municipality where the team/stadium is located.

      I don’t know if you have been to the northside, but if the cubs were not there, I am sure crime, low income housing, etc would dominate that area.

      Just my 2 cents worth. I am one for public funding for projects because it serves a greater cause than just lining the owners/players pockets.

      • Reflex - Jan 21, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        Most studies that have been done on the topic have come to the conclusion that sports stadiums, as drivers of the economy, break even at best. The areas immediately around them do tend to prosper, but increased infrastructure and services costs, plus the fact that they tend to simply shuffle local businesses around(that prosperous area means other areas in town do less well, especually at game time), but do not on balance equate to a better economy.

        Its fine to want a sports team for the various social aspects it brings to the table, the potential increase of a region in prestige and other factors. But the economic argument has never really made sense.

      • kyzslew77 - Jan 21, 2013 at 5:33 PM

        It’s pretty clear from your comment that YOU have never been to the North Side. They could shutter Wrigley tomorrow and the area would (for the foreseeable future) continue to be an attractive place for young professionals with good restaurants and bars.

        -former Lakeview resident who moved away because he hated the people around there (and the Cubs fans), but has to acknowledge that it’s a really nice place to live

      • louhudson23 - Jan 23, 2013 at 6:14 AM

        That depends entirely upon the deal as negotiated.It can be beneficial and worthwhile and it can be yet another form of Corporate welfare.Which is something the Ricketts are very familiar with. Imagine their astonishment when yet another trip to the buffet line was halted so abruptly. Clearly they draw a line between use of public funds,public education and infrastructure for the enrichment of individuals and the use of public funds which actually benefit the public….what’s a trickle down welfare queen to do??

    • lesnheart - Jan 21, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      Again they want to but the city has the stadium as a landmark status, so the city needs to give up some money or let them do what the have to. Dont u understand what u read!!!!!

      • escapingexile - Jan 22, 2013 at 9:46 AM

        I’ll assume this was directed towards me, so I shall respond accordingly. Reading comprehension is not a difficult task. The question is, do you have the capability to form your own thoughts or are they tethered to only what you read? The field was designated a landmark in 2004, which would be five years before the team was last purchased. This isn’t something that just happened. The Ricketts should have had the foresight to understand what they wanted to do and how they would have to go about doing it when they purchased the team. Now, being a landmark doesn’t prevent you from renovating the site, it merely creates a process in which approvals have to be given from a committee. Basically, in my experience, these committees are merely there to preserve the original aesthetics of the facility but are more than happy to modernize things….. within reason. Now, a plausible explanation of this entire scenario is that the Ricketts family is trying to play hardball by offering outlandish renovation ideas for which they are “willing” to pay for on their own knowing full well that they are going to be denied. They are then using that denial as the reason for which the city should have to foot some of the bill, ultimately, saving themselves hundreds of millions. Come on, try and think outside of the box a little bit. These people don’t get to be billionaires because they are stupid.

  4. Gordon - Jan 21, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    Their problem in obtaining public funding wasn’t the Joe Ricketts anti-Obama ad. That was a red herring. In fact, several people in the Ricketts clan are staunch supporters of Obama.

    The problem is the city & state are flat broke! There is no money. I think taxpayers in this state are finally starting to wake up to this notion. It would be political suicide to give a billionaire public funds.

    The Ricketts should be within their right to renovate that dump as they see fit, as long as they’re using their own money.

    • paperlions - Jan 21, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      Exactly. For some time, and perhaps still, IL was the state in the worst financial shape and there wasn’t a close second.

    • chill1184 - Jan 21, 2013 at 9:40 AM

      The anti-sports welfare movement is slowly gaining steam. We saw Charles Wang (owner of the NY Islanders) get rejected when he wanted a new tax payer funded building. The fights that are going on in Buffalo (Bills), Minnesota (Vikings), Atlanta (Falcons) are going to be interesting

      • kyzslew77 - Jan 21, 2013 at 5:37 PM

        Vikings already got theirs (before the Marlins thing blew up) and I think the Bills did too. But yes, hopefully the movement continues to gain steam. Easy for me to say since all of my favorite teams are in stadiums/areas that are less than 20 years old and still in good shape, but still. It’s getting out of hand.

  5. Old Gator - Jan 21, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    I think it’s hilarious that a franchise afflicted with an Indonesian prion-vectored neurological disease known to the Sepik River tribes as Die Vloek van die Geitbokshould be owned by someone named after a vitamin deficiency.

  6. mjames1229 - Jan 21, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I think what’s missing in this discussion is that the Ricketts bought a team while KNOWING (or at least, they should have known) the state of the economy in Illinois and Chicago, the ordinances of the Wrigley area, and the confines of the geography.

    My personal opinion is that you could sell me on public financing if (for example) a team is threatening to leave town. But that certainly doesn’t apply to the Cubs.

    It just seems like the Ricketts are playing themselves like idiots because they are having problems driving new revenue streams. There was probably a reason why the Tribune sold… they couldn’t produce the revenue they wanted. Looks like they found the right rube to sell to.

  7. sheriffpeyton18 - Jan 21, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Why don’t they sell shares in the team similar to what the Packers did. Sell a share for 200 bucks a piece?

    • deepstblu - Jan 21, 2013 at 3:41 PM

      If memory serves, when the Wrigleys held the controlling interest there were some publicly held shares in the Cubs that traded on the over-the-counter market.

  8. qcubed3 - Jan 21, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    If the Ricketts really did try to tear down Wrigley, the Chicago River would find itself with the same number of Ricketts in it as went missing form the City of Chicago the day before.

  9. hojo20 - Jan 21, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    “and schedule games at times that would maximize revenue”

    Ugh, goodbye to all the weekday afternoon games.

  10. coryfor3 - Jan 21, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    If they can’t fool legislators in Springfield then they can’t fool anyone. It doesn’t get easier than that.

  11. kayooger - Jan 21, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    Language PSA: If you’re talking about the Calcaterra family, you’d call them the Calcaterras. If you’re talking about the Ricketts family, you call them the Rickettses. Referring to “the Ricketts” is like bestowing a stupid nickname on Tom Ricketts, as if you were referring to yourself as “the Carcaterra.” End of PSA.

    • kayooger - Jan 22, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      I mean “the Calcaterra,” obviously. It’d be even weirder in you referred to yourself by the name of the author of “Sleepers.”

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