Sticking points remain between Cubs, rooftop owners as talks continue

Extra-inning talks continued into the weekend over the Ricketts family's proposal to rehab Wrigley Field, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepping up to the plate as agreement between the Cubs and rooftop club owners remained elusive, sources familiar with the talks said.

On Saturday, the sources identified the sticking points: The size, shape and precise location of a Jumbotron-like video screen in left field and another new sign in right field, compensation for blocked views from rooftop buildings and an extension of a revenue-sharing contract between the team and the rooftop owners.

The rooftop owners would like more detail about the signs, and were concerned that the one proposed for right field would be nearly three times larger than the semi-transparent Toyota sign now in left field, one source said. The rooftop clubs want to extend their deal with the team, but Cubs ownership opposes that.

Emanuel personally joined the negotiations in recent days, but neither the rooftop clubs nor their representatives have been at the table, the sources said. Ald. Thomas Tunney, 44th, has relayed information back to the rooftop owners.

With Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts anxious to seal a deal by Monday's home opener and Tunney indicating late last week that one was near, the rooftop owners continued to rattle a legal saber they've unsheathed before.

"Any construction that interrupts the rooftop views will effectually drive (the rooftop clubs) out of business and be challenged in a court of law," the owners of 16 rooftop venues said in a statement issued Friday.

They contend that blocking their views would violate not only their 20-year revenue-sharing contract with the Cubs, but also the city's landmark rules for the 99-year-old stadium. They have sought to extend their contract, set to expire at the end of 2023, but the Cubs have so far refused.

Both the Cubs and the city want to avoid litigation that could delay and boost the cost of the Cubs $500 million plan, thus the desire for agreement from the rooftop owners.

The Ricketts family wants the signs, which will feature revenue-generating ads, to help finance a $300 million renovation of the stadium, long adored for its old-time qualities even as it was reviled for its primitive bathrooms and locker rooms. The Cubs also have proposed spending an additional $200 million in the immediate area to put up a hotel and an office building with a plaza.

Because the Cubs are no longer asking for any taxpayer subsidy for the rehab, as they once were, Emanuel is anxious to get the deal done. The Ricketts say it would create new jobs and generate $19 million in new yearly tax revenue for the city, county and state.

In addition to the complications posed by the rooftop clubs and their agreement with the Cubs, entered before the Ricketts family paid more than $800 million to buy the team and stadium in 2009, Wrigleyville residents have expressed concern about the extra congestion and security issues that would come with the development and additional night games sought by the Ricketts family.

Last week, Tunney said that the Cubs have agreed to create extra parking in Wrigleyville, possibly by constructing a two-level garage that would create up to 500 extra spaces on what is now a gravel lot near Clark and Grace streets. The Cubs also have pledged to help pay for putting extra police on patrol around game times, the alderman said.

He also said that there is broad agreement on building the hotel, office building and plaza, if not the signs that might go up on the hotel and in the plaza.

In a sign of just how hard it will be for Tunney to please everyone, residents began circulating an online petition on Friday that was critical of a parking garage in the congested neighborhood, saying bicycles and public transportation should be promoted instead.

"Don't turn Lakeview into a parking lot," stated the petition, signed by more than 140 people as of Saturday afternoon. "Lakeview is a vibrant community that doesn't need more traffic and pollution. Adding more parking for Wrigley Field will only bring more cars to our neighborhood and make traffic even more unbearable."

The East Lake View Residents, meanwhile, sent a letter this week to Emanuel contending that residents "never received full disclosure of the request associated with renovations."

"Increasing encroachment of the Chicago Cubs on the residential and business community interests negatively impacts the interests of residents and voters," the letter states.

Tunney, who declined comment Saturday, has scheduled a meeting with community residents this week. If a deal has been announced by then, the meeting likely will be the start of his effort to get consensus on the plans, which must be cleared by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the City Council.

In their statement, the rooftop owners asserted their view that the agreement, as well as a landmark ordinance protecting the stadium, prevents the Cubs from blocking "the uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers" and thus their views into the park.

Twitter: @ReporterHal

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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