Cubs, labor unions lobby for state help

Updated: November 17, 2010, 1:57 AM ET
ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts on Tuesday trotted out everyone from iron workers to restaurant owners, saying they will benefit from his proposal to use $200 million in state bonds to help renovate Wrigley Field.

[+] EnlargeCubs Alley
Courtesy Chicago CubsThis is an artist's rendering of an area that will be on the west side of Wrigley Field.

Flanked by representatives of unions and civic groups, Ricketts tried to dispel any suggestion that his proposal would cost the public -- unless they come through the turnstiles -- any money at all.

"This is not a new tax, not an increased tax and a tax only paid by people who come to Cubs games and buy Cubs tickets," he said. "Taxpayers are being asked for nothing."

Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley say they can't back a plan that calls for the state to issue the bonds, not when Illinois is mired in billions of dollars worth of debt. Ricketts says the team would pay off the bonds over 35 years with higher taxes paid by fans when they come to Wrigley.

The overall $400 million renovation plan for the 96-year-old stadium would include a major overhaul of aging clubhouses, among other things. Ricketts contends the work would create 1,000 construction jobs and those would give way to hundreds of permanent jobs, generating more than $450 million in tax revenue for Chicago, Cook County and the state over the next 35 years.

Others, though, have been skeptical. The Chicago Tribune's editorial page called the proposal a "lopsided arrangement under which taxpayers assume the costs and risks to upgrade a privately owned stadium for one of baseball's most profitable franchises -- at a time when the city, county and state are worse than broke."

Quinn wondered about issuing the bonds at a time when the state is faced with a budget shortfall that could reach $15 billion. Not only that, but he seemed miffed that the Cubs talked to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan before they talked to him.

"Apparently, they don't think I'm as important as some others," Quinn told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Daley, who is not seeking a seventh term, said the deal that calls for the city's cut of the amusement tax to remain the same for 35 years should not be his decision but his successor's.

Ricketts, a lifelong Cubs fan whose family bought a 95 percent stake in the team from Tribune Co. in 2009 for $845 million, said the revenue benefits far outweigh the losses

"It is a real no-brainer from the economic standpoint," he said.

Ricketts said that the iconic park is in desperate need of renovation and not the kind of "patchwork" efforts that have been going on for years.

"We're going to have to address this one way or another," he said.

But Ricketts, who sounded like he may have been suggesting that the team might have to abandon Wrigley, later said that wasn't the case.

"That's not an option for the Ricketts family," he said. "We're staying at Wrigley Field [and] we're doing everything we can to preserve it."

The team's plans for the new park are starting to take shape, with a host of new drawings that flesh out previously reported plans.

The long-awaited Triangle Building would be the biggest addition to the Wrigley campus, and would likely contain a restaurant -- Harry Caray's is interested, general manager Grant DePorter said -- and a team museum.

A new twist is a "pedestrian corridor," which would be covered by a retractable roof and be in between the park and the building. It would also include space for a TV studio, merchandise sales and concessions.

The Cubs are also looking to improve the upper deck experience by expanding a popular patio across the entire top level, which is very tight-fitting. Currently Wrigley only has communal space in the middle of the upper deck. The expansion will allow for more concessions, restrooms and meeting places.

"We're really trying to address the second deck and what we do for folks upstairs," team president Crane Kenney said. "It's a really simple plan that doesn't change the appearance of the park from the outside. Just like this bay, you're creating huge places for people to gather."

Information from ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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