CHICAGO - The owners of the Chicago Cubs are moving forward with plans to renovate and expand Wrigley Field, despite the threat of lawsuits by the owners of adjacent rooftop venues that overlook the 100-year-old ballpark.
Chairman Tom Ricketts, whose family owns the team on Chicago's North Side, said in a statement released Thursday that the Cubs would submit a revised expansion plan to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks that includes the team's original proposal to add several outfield signs and additional bleacher seats.
"Unfortunately, it seems like my family's plans for Wrigley Field have gotten lost in the dispute with the rooftops," he said. "As a result, despite having new city ordinances to allow for expansion and renovation at Wrigley Field, we are back to square one with the rooftop businesses."
Ricketts said the team's negotiations with the owners of the adjacent rooftop venues are "back to square one" and that it's time to move forward. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said he was supportive of Ricketts' plans.
A lawyer representing the rooftop owners said they would fight the move.
"It appears their zeal to block rooftop owners who pay them millions of dollars a year in royalties knows no bounds," lawyer Ryan McLaughlin said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this decision by the Ricketts family will now result in this matter being resolved in a court of law."
The City Council approved the Cubs' $500 million renovation plan last summer, but it has been stalled by opposition from the owners of the 15 rooftop venues. They have a contract with Cubs that runs through 2023 requiring them to pay the team 17 per cent of their gross annual revenue. The rooftop owners fear the signs and additional seating will block their views of the field.
The two sides appeared to be close to a deal before the Cubs' annual fan convention last month when Ricketts made some remarks that the neighbours considered disparaging.
Ricketts' revised expansion plan requires Landmark Commission approval for additional seating, new lighting, four additional LED signs of up to 650 square feet, and a 2,400-square-foot video board in right field.
Other changes sought by the Cubs that don't require commission approval include: design modification to the player facilities, including expanding the Cubs' clubhouse; expansion of the visitors' clubhouse; movement of the bullpen to an area under the bleachers; and a reduction in the size of a city-approved left field video board.
"I know this plan is in the best interest of our fans and our players," Ricketts said in a video posted on the team's website. "We hope to avoid heading to the courthouse. But the most important thing is we want to exercise our right to expand and preserve the ballpark we own and love."
An emailed statement from Emanuel's office was supportive.
"Like all Cub fans, the mayor doesn't want to wait for next year and if this proposal helps the Cubs get closer to a ballpark renovation this fall — and the jobs and neighbourhood investments that come with it — it's worth taking a look at," it said.
The Cubs have invested in facilities and their farm system, and the team this year opened a new facility funded by taxpayers in Mesa, Arizona.
Ricketts has acknowledged that the $845 million purchase of the team from Tribune Co. left his family with a debt load, but pointed out Thursday that the team hasn't sought city or state economic development money he says is routinely obtained for projects such as this.