Reports: Illinois sports agency in talks with Cubs to acquire Wrigley Field

Updated: December 13, 2007, 6:58 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Tribune Co. has asked the state to explore the possibility of acquiring Wrigley Field through the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government-backed sports agency said Thursday.

Discussions are preliminary and no decision has been reached, former Gov. James Thompson, the facilities authority's board chairman, said in a statement.

The talks were first reported by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times.

The sports body was created by state lawmakers in 1987 for the purpose of building a new Comiskey Park, now U.S. Cellular Field, where the Chicago White Sox play.

Thompson emphasized in his statement that the cash-strapped state government "does not have any intention of using tax dollars to acquire Wrigley Field, and would not consider the transaction if it involved any state taxpayer dollars going to the Tribune Company."

He said discussions have focused on whether acquiring Wrigley Field is the best means of assuring the 93-year-old ballpark "remains the long-term home of the Chicago Cubs, continues to serve as an engine for economic development in our city and state while ensuring it receives any necessary restorations."

Tribune Co., which intends to sell the Chicago-based Comcast sports channel as well as the Cubs and Wrigley in the first half of 2008, declined to comment on the talks.

"We're looking at everything," company spokesman Gary Weitman said Thursday. "We're looking at the best way to sell these assets. That includes looking at them separately, in combination, etc. But we're looking at the best ways to do that."

Tribune is in the midst of trying to sell the Cubs as part of an $8.2 billion deal to take the company private under the leadership of real estate magnate Sam Zell. That transaction is expected to close by year's end and as soon as Dec. 20, Zell said at a luncheon appearance Wednesday, but formal bids on the Cubs have yet to be solicited.

Analysts have speculated all the assets combined could attract bids of as much as $1 billion or more.

Tribune shares rose 89 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $32.79 in Thursday trading.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press