Hey, Chicago, What Do You Say? Let The Cubs Renovate

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have put forth an offer to the city of Chicago to restore Wrigley Field, if city restrictions are lifted. Within reason, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city officials should say "yes."

You've seen the gallery of 20 concept illustrations for the restoration of Wrigley Field (if you haven't, go click on that link, then come back and read the rest of this).

Others in the media have weighed in on this topic, and the following items from the Sun-Times are of interest. First, there's Fran Spielman's article in the business section, which contains the following remarkable quote:

"The proposal made by the Cubs is the most one-sided stadium deal in favor of the city that I have seen in my lifetime," Chicago-based sports marketing consultant Marc Ganis said Monday.

"All $3OO million would be coming from the Cubs. The only thing the team is asking in return is to have the same rights that every other team in Major League Baseball has. If I were advising Rahm Emanuel, I'd tell him to get it in writing and get it approved before [Cubs Chairman] Tom Ricketts woke up."

That's a pretty emphatic endorsement of this deal being good for the city. On the other hand, Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown says hold on a second:

On the preservation side, the changes being considered appear true to the ballpark, despite fairly dramatic alterations to the exterior of the grandstand. Not everybody will approve.

Where I'm most uncomfortable is that the Cubs seem to be taking an absolutist position. Rather than looking to simply ease the restrictions on night games or concerts or signage by negotiating new limits, they want the restrictions eliminated. Anything short of that and the Cubs say it's back to asking for a public subsidy.

As a negotiating position, that might make sense. As a bottom line, not so much.

The Cubs shouldn't need carte blanche. They need to hit a number to make their project work.

Ganis is right, and Brown is right. How can they both be correct? Well, the offer by the Cubs takes any financial risk away from the city (or county or state); they'd be asked to pony up exactly zero dollars. On the other hand, the city (or county or state) does have some skin in this game, for the exact reason that Wrigley Field -- as it's been for decades -- is a major tourist attraction, and (according to the Cubs' research) brings many dollars into state coffers. As Brown further points out:

The Cubs not only own a unique ballpark; they operate in a unique neighborhood environment that has to be respected. The Ricketts have done a good job of that so far, but that doesn't free them from future obligations.

I agree with that, too. The Cubs do need to be sensitive to their neighbors; they have, as Brown notes, done a pretty good job of doing that over the years. But as Brown further notes, and I concur, this needs to be a negotiation, not an "absolutist position." The Cubs might wind up getting most of what they want, not all of it, in exchange for an agreement to loosen most of the restrictions regarding Wrigley Field.

Wrigley Field is unique. It's not Fenway Park -- which is located mostly in a commercial, not residential, area -- and Chicago isn't Boston. Just because "Yawkey Way" works in Boston -- where you're not closing off a residential street and where the Red Sox own much of the property -- doesn't mean the Cubs should be able to close off Sheffield with a street fair. Sure, Sheffield is closed during games, but once crowds clear, people who live in the area can make it to and from their homes. So perhaps this is one "negotiating point" that could be dropped in exchange for the city (and neighborhood, represented primarily by Ald. Tom Tunney) to agree to the others.

Regarding those other things the Cubs are asking for: more night games (a compromise at 40 per season, up from the current 30, should be reasonable, as well as permission to have two or three Friday nights coming off road trips), a Jumbotron (bring it on, if they can figure out a place to put it) and more signage in the park (as Tom Ricketts said at the convention, "We're not operating a museum") -- bring 'em on. The Cubs, at least at the present time, don't have the kinds of revenue streams that many teams are bringing in through new local TV deals (although those could be coming in the next few years); in order to be able to compete with their wealthier brethren, they do need new revenue streams.

Which brings me to this Rick Telander screed that appeared in the Sun-Times Sunday. I used to like Telander's work, particularly his Sports Illustrated articles, but he's turned into a grumpy old crank. His column, headlined "It should be Cubs first, Wrigley second", says, among other things:

Maybe the Rickettses are learning. The Wrigley renovations would be nice, the jobs created very nice. But this is a private building, a private franchise.

As [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel said in the spring of 2O11, "Their job is as owners of the team. My job is representing the taxpayers."

Actually, their job is to win a World Series before we all drift beyond the vines.

The headline is, as headlines sometimes are, a bit misleading -- but perhaps Telander didn't notice the hire of Theo Epstein in October 2011? And the turnaround that's begun in the lowest levels of the system? And the fact that new revenue streams from the proposed renovations would help the team win a World Series? (I think Telander is still upset because as a student at Northwestern in 1969, he invested his heart and soul in that team, had it crushed -- as the rest of us who were around then did -- but more than 43 years later, still hasn't forgiven that failed playoff run.)

That's the whole point of all of this exercise -- from the hiring of Theo to the upgrading of Wrigley Field, to bring the Cubs into the 21st Century in both the baseball side and the fan- and player-amenity side, to help them compete with teams that currently have better facilities and more money.

That's how you win a World Series. We (the collective "we", not any of us currently alive) have waited 104 years. We're very, very patient. With this renovation and its associated facility upgrades and revenue streams, the Ricketts family can get the team closer to winning. Bring it on.

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