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The Rooftops, The Cubs, And The Contract

CSN's David Kaplan had a look at the actual contract between the rooftops and the Cubs. Here are some relevant portions, and some thoughts.

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We've talked a lot about the Cubs' dispute with the Wrigleyville rooftop owners. Probably more than you'd like, or I'd like, or any of us would like. I'd rather be talking about making the team better.

But this is what we have. And CSN's David Kaplan has more information for us in this article, in which he got an exclusive look at the full contract between the two parties and had some lawyers look at it. Last week, Kaplan seemed to think the contract favored the rooftops in the current dispute, but now appears to have changed his tune.

Here are the relevant parts of the contract, which runs until December 31, 2023 (that seems like a science-fiction year, doesn't it?). First:

6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

The key words in that section appear to be "expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities." Here's what one lawyer with whom Kaplan spoke said:

"The last line of 6.6 is the one that an arbitrator might have to decide," he told me. "And let's be clear that unless both sides agree, the contract does not provide an avenue for a lawsuit in the typical sense of the word. Instead, it sends both parties before an arbitration panel. The arbitration process will keep everything in the litigation confidential, as opposed to a federal lawsuit, which becomes part of the public record.

"Now, in looking at 6.6, the question that will have to be decided is whether or not the word 'expansion' will apply to a sign or Jumbotron. Looking at the wording of the contract, any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section. Is a sign in right field or a Jumbotron in left field an expansion of Wrigley Field? Or is an expansion of Wrigley Field something that would have to include seating or making the ballpark bigger? This is no slam dunk win for the Cubs, although I think they would ultimately prevail, but I would say the same about the rooftops."

That's the key question, and Kaplan notes that the Cubs have been very careful to say that the Wrigley Field project is an "expansion." It's important to remember that the contract was worded the way it was, back in 2004, in part because the Cubs were at the time mulling expanding the bleachers, and the rooftops feared that a bleacher expansion would block their views. The bleacher expansion, of course, did happen in the 2005-06 offseason, and no views were blocked as a result.

There's a long section in Kaplan's article that discusses the clause in the contract that appears to say that any damages the Cubs would have to pay to any rooftop club would have ended as of January 27, 2012, two years ago. The summation of who might win a legal challenge is given by the attorney who Kaplan had look over the contract:

"After looking at the wording that the Cubs have used consistently and that the City Council of Chicago also used and approved by a 49-0 vote, I believe it strengthens the Cubs' position against the Rooftops in a potential lawsuit," he added. "Again, no one can predict what an arbitration panel could decide, but it certainly seems the Cubs have done all they could do to demonstrate and prove that the entirety of the project — which includes a Jumbotron and signage — is indeed an expansion. If that is what it is and it ends up in front of an arbitration panel and they agree, then that will remove the roadblock standing in the way of the entire Wrigley renovation project."

Given all this, it's surprising the Cubs waited this long to get this matter before a court. They had wanted everything approved and signed off on by Opening Day 2013, which is now almost 10 months in the rear-view mirror. I'm not a lawyer, but reading Kaplan's article, it certainly seems like the Cubs should prevail on the merits.

Any attorneys who post here -- and I know there are quite a few of you -- please feel free to give your legal view on this issue.

I'm hoping for a swift resolution.