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posted: 4/15/2013 9:51 PM

Cubs moving forward, but questions remain

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  • Associated PressCubs club chairman Tom Ricketts speaks at a baseball news conference inside Wrigley Field on Monday in Chicago. Ricketts said the Cubs and the city have agreed on details of a $500 million facelift for Wrigley Field, giving Ricketts the ability to renovate the second-oldest park in the major leagues, boost business and perhaps make baseball's most infamous losers competitive again.

      Associated PressCubs club chairman Tom Ricketts speaks at a baseball news conference inside Wrigley Field on Monday in Chicago. Ricketts said the Cubs and the city have agreed on details of a $500 million facelift for Wrigley Field, giving Ricketts the ability to renovate the second-oldest park in the major leagues, boost business and perhaps make baseball's most infamous losers competitive again.

 
 

As sports go, Chicago politics take a back seat to virtually nothing.

Perhaps with the exception of the Jordan-era Bulls, few games in these parts have been as consistently entertaining -- and maddening.

Welcome to Cook County, Tom Ricketts, a man who must have the patience of a saint.

The Cubs and the city announced that the mayor and alderman have graciously agreed to let the Cubs run their business.

But do not call it a $500 million deal with the city to renovate Wrigley Field. The deal is that the politicians will allow Ricketts to spend $500 million of his own money to refurbish the stadium and build a hotel across the street.

How sweet of them.

Somehow, miraculously, these benevolent individuals have been satisfied and decided the Cubs can proceed with plans to use their own cash to improve their business and expand revenues.

The politicians have said all along that everyone must have a say in the matter, and that the Cubs would not get the go-ahead until the neighborhood was on board with the details.

According to Ricketts, that has not yet occurred, and still the city and the Cubs issued a joint statement late Sunday that an agreement was in place on a proposed renovation.

"There's been a lot of discussion, a lot of very productive discussions with both the mayor and alderman," Ricketts said at news conference Monday. "There are some things to finalize."

So while there were handshakes all around Monday, Ricketts said repeatedly that there is work to be done on the agreement.

"I know for sure what's going to happen first," Ricketts said. "We have to get through this process. That's what we're going to be focused on for the next few weeks, next few months potentially."

Next few months? So the Cubs can't actually begin ordering steel and cement for the start of an off-season project that will last several years.

"There are a lot of details still to be worked out with the city," Ricketts said. "I always thought there was an arrangement to be made, but, that said, this is just the beginning of a process.

"We're willing to make a very large investment in this city. We think this proposal is what we need to do that. I'm going to go forward with the assumption that there will be lots of community meetings, lots of discussion, and we will end up with this plan. That's the way we look at it."

Trying to translate Chicago politics into English is never simple, but it appears as though the Cubs have done whatever it is they had to do behind the scenes to get the mayor and alderman to agree, and that even though there's no apparent approval from the rooftops or local residents, the mayor has told the Cubs to move forward.

In other words, if Rahm Emanuel says it's OK, then it's OK, regardless of what anyone in the neighborhood thinks from this point forward.

This is in stark contrast to all that's been said previously, when it was made clear to the Cubs by the city that they wouldn't be able to do anything to their ballpark until all supposedly affected gave their blessing.

"I really don't have any idea what's going to happen, what the rooftops are going to do," Ricketts said. "We have the agreement. We know we have the right to put up signs. After that, I really can't control the future. We're going to go forward and see where it ends up."

Not all the rooftop owners have agreed, nor have they lifted their threat to sue the Cubs, and local residents continue to voice concerns about traffic in the area.

"I have not spoken to any rooftop owners lately," Ricketts said. "We'll take that issue as it comes."

Maybe the city finally recognized it was losing the public-relations battle, maybe it believed the Cubs might actually consider moving -- just the announcement of a threat would have been devastating politically to those standing in the way -- or maybe Ricketts found some creative ways to please the local politicians.

In any case, the Cubs are going ahead with their plans, though Ricketts consistently used phrases Monday such as, "should we get this proposal approved" and "should we move forward."

For all we know, maybe this finally happened out of concern for the safety of Cubs players, after an ice cold Steve Clevenger came off the bench to pinch hit in 38-degree weather Saturday -- without the benefit of a batting cage -- and shredded an oblique, putting him out for at least a couple of months.

"The clubhouse is a high priority for us," Ricketts said. "We don't want to tell our players this is a first-class organization and then give them second-rate facilities. It's not just how it looks and how it feels. It's how it works.

"We would like to get batting tunnels built. We would like to get better training facilities."

So are the Cubs certain they can get started on renovations after this season?

"Once again," Ricketts said, "the ability to do that will be subject to how quickly the process moves."

For review, the city agreed to the Cubs' proposal, the mayor and alderman did not attend the news conference, a joint statement was issued, and the Cubs are moving forward with plans, even though the process continues and they're not certain they can break ground in October.

Only in Chicago, right?

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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