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Wrigley Rehab Could Qualify For Federal Tax Breaks

Some federal tax credits could be available to the Ricketts family if their recent proposal to renovate Wrigley Field is approved. It's not a special break -- anyone restoring an historic building can get these. Read on.

Jonathan Daniel

I write this post at some risk, because it involves a topic that could turn the discussion political, and in general, politics is a topic I like to have you discuss elsewhere, since this is a baseball site. It's almost unavoidable, however, when discussing the renovation of Wrigley Field, since governmental bodies will be involved in approving the Cubs' recent proposal.

So while it's inevitable that there will be some politics injected into the comments to this post, please note that if things get too contentious, or if political issues beyond this very specific one are brought up, I will close comments.

With that out of the way, and while we wait for what will likely be the announcement of another Cubs game postponed by rain Thursday afternoon, here's the latest on the Wrigley renovation saga:

The Tribune has learned that the Cubs have filed initial paperwork that would open the door to Wrigley Field winning a coveted spot in the National Register of Historic Places.

The 99-year-old stadium would join the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Orchestra Hall and other historic Chicago properties on the list. But there's more than prestige attached to the listing.

Being listed puts the wealthy Ricketts family in line for a significant financial reward: federal income tax credits on the work done to refurbish Wrigley Field.

The government help would basically reimburse the family for some of the $3OO million it plans to spend on the stadium. The historic-preservation tax credit is equal to 2O percent of qualified rehabilitation costs.

It's unknown how much of the Wrigley work would qualify for the tax break, but the restoration of Fenway Park in Boston provides a guidepost. The Boston Red Sox spent about $285 million to upgrade their stadium, a 1O-year project that was completed in 2O11. Published reports estimated the team was eligible for $4O million in tax credits.

So this isn't something that would be given to the Ricketts family and the Cubs that hasn't been given to other places of historic interest in Chicago, nor would it be the first time it's been done for a baseball stadium. In case you still have an uneasy feeling about this, perhaps this will calm your fears:

Neil deMause, a critic of public funding of new sports facilities, said the historic-preservation tax credit is not as obnoxious as local and state governments handing over cash to the wealthy owners of professional sports teams. The Ricketts family would be applying for something anyone can get, he said.

"The federal government has decided that the public has an interest in maintaining historic buildings," said deMause, co-author of "Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit."

"I feel a little better about it because it's not a special subsidy."

The Cubs and the Ricketts family still need local approval for many portions of their proposal because Wrigley Field has city of Chicago landmark status, conferred upon it by the city in 2004, according to the article. But the idea of giving Wrigley national landmark status is not new:

As for national register status, in an odd quirk Wrigley is eligible to be listed. In 1987, the National Park Service nominated Wrigley as a new landmark, even though the Cubs hadn't applied for the designation, said Andrew Heckenkamp, National Register coordinator for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

But Cubs ownership didn't pursue the idea, Heckenkamp said.

You may or may not agree with the federal law that provides for such tax credits; I'd ask again that you keep any comments on that to yourself. But the fact is, this law exists; the Tribune article indicates that anyone can apply for such tax credits if they have a project of this type, so the Ricketts are not asking for preferential treatment.

If it helps them get the project done, I personally have no problem with it.