2/19/2014 5:03 PM
Ricketts remains committed to Wrigley renovation
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts remains committed to renovating Wrigley Field rather than finding a new home despite ongoing legal issues with the neighboring rooftop owners.
The $500 million overhaul to the famed 100-year-old ballpark and neighborhood remains on hold. Ricketts is not threatening to move, at least for now.
"To pretend that it's just any other park, I don't think that's credible, either," Ricketts said Wednesday. "The truth is we still have to get this done, and we're not quite there yet. If we can't grind it out — these last few steps — I don't know what's going to happen. But the key is we're committed to renovating and improving the park and saving it for the next generation of fans."
The project calls for a nearby hotel and upgrades throughout the ballpark, with a Jumbotron video screen in left field and a 650 square-foot Budweiser sign in right. The Cubs have approval from the city for the Jumbotron and sign but seek assurances from the rooftop owners — who hand a percentage of their revenue to the team — that they won't slow construction by suing over blocked views.
"Ultimately, you have to have control of your own outfield. We can't live for the next 100 years with this kind of situation," Ricketts said. "And we have to know it's going to be over if we're going to invest in the park. That's the full story."
At what point would the Cubs threaten to move if an agreement isn't finalized?
"I'm not going to answer that," he said. "I think we're just trying to work toward the finish line here."
They appeared to be close before the Cubs' annual fan convention last month. Then, Ricketts made some remarks that the neighbors considered disparaging and progress slowed.
Ricketts said he hopes to have the Budweiser sign in place by opening day, although it remains the main point of contention at the moment.
He had hoped to start construction by now. Instead, Ricketts is eyeing the end of the year, instead. He said the Cubs could stay another 50 years in a renovated Wrigley Field.
As he spoke, Ricketts was standing at a sparkling new facility funded by taxpayers in Mesa, Ariz. But back home, the privately funded Wrigley project remains on hold.
"There are a lot of differences between our spring training facility and Wrigley Field," Ricketts said. "I mean, for one, there's 100 years of history at Wrigley and we have to respect that. All along, it's been our goal to preserve and improve Wrigley because it does mean so much to our fans. It means so much to baseball, and we're still working on that premise that we're going to try to get that accomplished."
Would work at Wrigley have started by now had he threatened to leave from the start?
"I don't know," he said. "You can't go back and talk hypothetically about what did or didn't happen, and you can't just pretend Wrigley Field's another ballpark like something built out in some suburb that's 20 years old that nobody cares about. I don't think it would be realistic to say that just ripping a page out of any other team's playbook would really apply to us."
He was also asked about the Cubs' radio and TV negotiations, with their deal with WGN expiring after the season.
"It's still too early to predict or kind of anticipate what's going to happen with those games, but we have some options and we're going to explore them and do what's right for the team," Ricketts said.
The Cubs have invested in facilities and their farm system, but they've posted four straight losing seasons at the major league level. With a few exceptions, they've been quiet in free agency. And when they made a push for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka in the offseason, he signed with the New York Yankees.
Ricketts acknowledged some difficulties stemming from the $845 million purchase of the team from Tribune Co. that left the Ricketts family with a debt load. But he dismissed the idea that ownership was withholding money from the baseball operation despite a drop in payroll in recent years at a time when baseball's revenues have grown.
"Profit taking?" he said. "Absolutely not. That's ridiculous. We do have some issues that are created by the structure of the deal that was offered to everybody — not just to us. Those have some expenses related to it, but what you're seeing is dollars that are being taken in the organization and spent in ways that aren't just obvious to everyone on the payroll side."
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