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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 CSNChicago.com 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 …”

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