Cubs whiff on pitch to renovate Wrigley Field

By Ameet Sachdev
Posted Dec. 2, 2010 at 3:26 p.m.

The Chicago Cubs’ proposal to use tax dollars to finance more than $200 million in improvements at Wrigley Field has so far missed the strike zone, but the team’s ownership is not giving up.

When Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts unveiled the plan last month, he had hoped for speedy legislative approval of his financing proposal that required the state to issue bonds on the team’s behalf. He said a bill could be introduced during the General Assembly’s veto session held the past few weeks in Springfield.

But the team’s concept never turned into a bill for lawmakers to consider, because of objections to how the bonds would be repaid. The General Assembly’s veto session ended Thursday morning.

The lack of legislation on Wrigley did not come as a surprise to many because the Cubs’ plan has received little support from key elected officials. Both Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Richard Daley have questioned whether renovating a privately-owned stadium is a proper use of tax dollars when the state and city are facing budget woes.

Public sentiment also was not in favor of the Ricketts family, who bought the team last year and knew that the 96-year-old ballpark would need massive renovations to keep it viable, said Ald. Tom Tunney, whose ward encompasses Wrigley.

“I think people like the Rickettses but don’t have much sympathy that they bought a team with eyes wide open and within a year are asking for a subsidy,” Tunney said. “That’s the kind of calls we are getting to my office.”

Still, the idea that taxpayers should help preserve Wrigley has its supporters. Whether the Cubs win or lose, the historic ballpark attracts legions of fans, including out-of-state tourists, who spend millions of dollars that drive the economy of the surrounding Lakeview neighborhood. U.S. Cellular Field and Soldier Field are both publicly financed but are also owned by the taxpayers.

The setback in the General Assembly did not disappoint Ricketts, said the family’s spokesman Dennis Culloton.

“There’s plenty of time to work this out,” Culloton said. “The concept needed to be put out there so we can get discussions under way. The family is committed to getting it done.”

To repay the bonds, the Cubs wanted to tap the 12-percent amusement tax that the city and Cook County levy on tickets at Wrigley Field. The city and county collected $16 million in 2009 from Wrigley Field surcharge.

The team asked the city and county to forfeit future growth in the amusement tax above $16 million for at least 35 years—the term of the bonds. The Cubs said the future growth in the ticket surcharge through increased ticket prices would be enough to retire the debt. But Daley said he did not want to saddle the next mayor with a deal that redirected tax dollars that the city needs to fund basic services such as police protection.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts tried to blunt criticism by touting that the improvements in and around Wrigley Field would create jobs and generate sales and property taxes that would offset the loss of amusement tax. The ownership had pledged to invest its own money to redevelop land around Wrigley Field into a Cubs museum, restaurants and other fan amenities.

But there were concerns beyond whether the project was a proper use of tax dollars. The Cubs sought additional security for the bonds in case the amusement taxes would not meet the debt service. Ricketts proposed that the city’s 2-percent hotel tax be used as the safety net.

But back-stopping the bonds with the hotel tax was not well received by state’s financial advisers, said John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who supports the idea of using amusement taxes to finance Wrigley improvements.

“Bond counsel had problems with the proposed back-up plan,” Patterson said. “Those problems have yet to be resolved.”

The hotel tax is already committed to repaying debt on U.S. Cellular Field and Soldier Field until 2031.

If concerns with the back-up plan can be resolved in the next few weeks, Patterson left open the possibility that the Cubs’ amusement-tax concept could be revisited when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Read more about the topics in this post: , ,


  1. JoeyB Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Again, if it’s such a great idea and such a winner, how come they can’t go to a bank and get a loan?

  2. Little_Pig Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    How can they call it the “Cubs’ amusement-tax”? There is nothing amusing about the Cubs.

  3. lifelongcubfan Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    again with the bathroom renovations ricketts family?

    last year, all i heard about was the womens bathroom renovations. sign a starting pitcher, sign a reliever, sign a new 1st baseman!!! this is the second off season in a row that all i hear about is renovations, not any big signings. if you didn’t have enough money to run the franchise (pick up & pay quality players, continue to pay the overpriced ones, & upkeep an aging stadium), you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

    i’m boycotting the cubs this year. no tickets or merchandise will be purchased by my family. who can afford to overpay for tickets and refreshments for a garbage product on the field in these economic times? i know it won’t make too big a difference but its all i can do since we, the fans, had no say in who bought the cubs.

  4. ejhickey Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Illinois is broke and has a credit rating below Iraq. How can we even contemplate using tax dollars to subsidize a private business owned by wealthy people that is not even in financial trouble. We should use every dime of tax revenue to pay our unpaid bills , reduce the City and State deficits and hire more police BEFORE we even think about this proposal. This plan is the equivalent of a teenager asking his parents to buy him a new car so he can go to prom, after he has wrecked the family vehicle and flunked all his classes. the answer should be NO. You can’t do fun things until you face up to your responsibilities and clean up the messes you have made. However I realize I am speaking to the baby boomer generation that has grown up doing the opposite and generally made a mess of the world.

  5. joe1 Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Let me get this straight.Tom bought an asset which he overpaid and is now in the red. The average Joe pays overpays for an asset, his house,now in the red. Tom gets a bailout. The average joe goes out on the street. Help me with this. People. Hell probably get this under the cover of darkness since hes probably bought and paid for the politicians a long time ago but if you ever go to another game again. You get the agony you deserve!! Take a stand people! If he gets this then more will come and everyone will just keep complaining! do something Chicago!

  6. Eddie Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    No public money for stadiums. Ever.

  7. fred Dec. 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I own a Landmark home it needs new windows. Will the state pay for them out of tax dollars for me.

  8. tr2501968 Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Normally I would agree with most of the posts…with the state financing in as big a mess as it is, the timing of the proposal is terrible. But, unlike…say the Milwaukee Brewers…the Cubs and Wrigley Field draws tourist from around the country…tear down Wrigley and build a new stadium? The out of town tourists will stop coming. Make Wrigley even more of a tourist destination and people will come….

  9. Mark Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I’m eyeing a nice four flat down the street that needs some work. How about if the state lends me money and in return I’ll pay it back with the property tax it generates.

  10. DJ Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    At a time when Chicago police officers are being killed every other week and the city can only afford one man cars, why would anyone suggest such a thing. Personally I would rather put that money into having enough police officers to work two man cars, which would be much safer and possibly not sacrifice anymore lives.

  11. patrick Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    They should change the name back to Weegham Park.The Wrigley family did nothing for the Cubs world for decades. And, they’ve had free publicity since they sold the team in 1981. Sell the naming rights and use the money as a down payment for the renovations.Start some new ‘winning’ traditions.
    Yes, I’m an expert at this stuff.

  12. Bill V Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I still say Mark Cuban should have been allowed to buy this team.Cubs fans would have gotten amenities and a decent team.But Reinsdork,Selig and the other guys in the Good Ole Boy owners fraternity froze him out.God forbid the Cubs get an owner who might actually make some noise and try to put together a winner.

  13. Roberto Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    To repay the bonds, the Cubs wanted to tap the 12-percent amusement tax that the city and Cook County levy on tickets at Wrigley Field. The city and county collected $16 million in 2009 from Wrigley Field surcharge.”

    To all those who complained that TAX dollars would be used for renovating the field, you need to realize those dollars are coming from the revenue generated at the field. No Wrigley… No $16 million for the city either way. But with a new field and updated surroundings, I think the area would benefit in the long run.

  14. Dandy Randy Dec. 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    It seems to me like Wrigly Field isn’t the problem. They have no trouble selling tickets and getting top dollar at that. Prices are such that a family of modest income can’t afford tickets – and still they sell out.

    Sure the park is old. Sure some of the seats are crummy. People still pay top dollar for that “experience.”


  15. lifelongcubfan Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    dandy randy & bill V, you two know whats up.
    i wish cuban got the team as well.
    your right, reinsdorf didn’t want anyone in chicago putting on a better show than him. the guy is a shrewd businessman & a much better one than the ricketts family seems to be.

    maybe we’ll make the playoffs after they sell the team.

  16. Bill Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Hey, I’m probably the biggest critic of government waste and misspending that I know of, but let me play the devil’s advocate. All Ricketts did was do what most every other sports team owner has done over the last 15 years, ask for government assistance to fund stadium needs. By comparison to what other sports teams have received, $200 mil is chump change. Furthermore, repaying the funds from anticipated growth in the amusement tax insures that the funds would be money resulting from the Wrigley improvements and money spent in large part by visitors to the city, and would not be a burden on the city’s residents. Unfortunately for Rickets, the political and economic environment has made him look foolish. On the other hand, he had to put the ball into play so that he could begin negotiating with the city and state on some concessions. Let’s face it folks, the city and state offers tax breaks, bonds, infrastructure, etc, etc, to all types of businesses in order to entice them to move to Chicago or expand their presence. Baseball is not unique in that respect.

    On the other hand, let me point out the hypocrisy of outgoing Mayor Daley. He claims that he doesn’t want to burden future Mayors with what would be a relatively minor commitment and would appear to be a break even deal. All the while, he has sold the Skyway and the Parking Meters for billions. Those billions are long gone, the city still has a huge deficit and has now lost the income from the Parking Meters and the Skyway. For his next brilliant move, he’s gonna sell all of the festivals, including the Taste of Chicago. Oh, and let’s not forget, his White Sox have a stadium, paid for by the state, a real sweet deal by all measures. But they don’t generate a dime for the local economy. After leaving the Cell, the only thing you want to do is get out of town without getting carjacked.

  17. markk Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    This is why cities need to purchase teams. Green Bay owns the Packers and in my opinion it is one of the best situations in professional sports. Now the city of Chicago is stuck between bowing to the demands of the ownership or having them move to a city who will give them a new stadium.

  18. joe Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Perhaps instead of privatizing they should ‘publicize’ the park. Collect the amusement tax and send quarterly checks to the taxpayers.

  19. John Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Take the team to another place. Any moron knows that their perpetual draw (in spite of perpetual failure) has absolutely nothing to do with the stadium.

  20. Northside Neuman Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Most of the people posting here don’t have a clue…

    Lifelongcubsfan, why would they dump more money into free agents when the players they currently have suck and whom they can’t trade? Its called GOING YOUNG!! Rebuilding from within! They are spending so much time discussing renovations because they play in a 100 year old ball park that the Tribune Company neglected for decades.. GET IT!?!?

    The money the Ricketts family wants to use to repay the debt does not currently exist. It will only exist if the renovation occurs, so their is no stealing from state programs to pay for this work to be done. The benefit to the state is additional sales taxes generated from new bars, restaurants and retail shops and the increased incentive to visit Lakeview by tourists. Additional sales tax revenues will be generated from within the ball park as well with more concession options, things to do, places to stay. Do you honestly think they would be trying to open three new hotels in Lakeview if the Cubs were not located there?

    Last, if Mark Cuban had bought the Cubs he would be asking for the same kind of help in getting this financing done. The reason they want the ISFA to float the debt is because municipal debt typically has a much lower interest rate associated with it, making borrowing less costly. If the Ricketts agreed to share the liability with the State in covering any shortfalls in the Wrigely amusement tax covering the debt service this deal would be an even bigger no brainer.

    This proposal would increase tax dollars collected by the City and State, not decrease it. You can not compare Wrigely Field and its benefits to State coffer to U.S. Cellular and Soldier Field. Its dwarfs what those White Elephants produce, especially Soldier Field.

  21. Chicago Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Cub Owners,
    Either use your own money, leave things they way they are or go somewhere else. Keep your rich fingers out of my wallet.

  22. Northside Neuman Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    The only guy who so far has a firm grasp of this topic is Bill who posted at 6:12 pm.

    He is exactly right. Hey Mayor Daley how about selling the Cell and Soldier Feild, paying off the remaining debt on those tax dollar sink holes and investing those funds into an asset that actually makes money for the State of Illinois, like Wrigely Field???

  23. WorkinMan Dec. 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Why would they (the state) put money into wrigley? Win or lose, every game is a sellout. Everyone wins, Ricketts don’t have to invest anything to keep winning, the state dosen’t need to put anything into it, they get a maximum return in tax revenues for doing absolutely nothing, the city can raise taxes without doing anything. Why would anybody change a thing? Seriously! I doubt that this isn’t over, I am envisioning a skybox filled with state and local pols, cocktails in hand, enjoying a day at the public trough while celebrating the opening of the newly renovated former Wrigley field!

  24. JimBob Dec. 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    There is nothing like bad timing to kill a dumb idea.

  25. Garfield the Cat Dec. 2, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Tear down Wrigley Field and move the team to Las Vegas.

  26. Waste of TIme Dec. 2, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    I’m boycotting watching this team for awhile. I used to watch every night game and listen to day games at work and would go to several a year since I only live 15 minutes away from the ballpark but enough is enough. I’m going to take all of that time and all of those hours normally spent watching and following the Cubs and invest it into other things like a supplemental part-time job to pay for my ever-increasing taxes, or hobbies that are actually WORTHWHILE such as learning guitar, riding my bike, spending more times with friends and family, masturbating, gardening, boating, masturbating, watching paint dry, watching corn grow etc. I’ve had about enough of the Cubs….44 years enough! Did I mention masturbating as a much more wortwhile alternative to watching this joke of a franchise with players(Big Z, Soriano) that I can’t stand??

  27. CHODZ Dec. 2, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Good! Sell the ream and send them packing to Florida, we don’t need that “longest loser” streak hanging around our necks

  28. Ed Dec. 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    Give ‘em the money! Raise our taxes higher if you have to. We can all afford it. Can never have too many temporary contruction jobs or minimum wage hot dog venders!

    Maybe next our tax dollars can subsidize the players salaries too.

  29. CubsfanJ Dec. 2, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    The Rickets are shrewd business people. They are seeking a reasonable option. However, I also think they may have put this forward knowing it would get kicked back based on the economy. Now they can turn back around make another proposal and make the changes they want since they must finance them. My point is this. Wrigley has a tag on it that limits what they can do. Landmark status anybody. Well the State and City can not have it both ways. They can not tell you what you can and can’t do in renovations or what time of day you run your business if they are not going to work with in through tax breaks or loans. Sorry folks it against the law to place those limits on a private business. They are actually hurting the Cubs with the landmark status. Now we are broaching on legal issues that the City and State do not want to get into. Either let them improve their product and make money the way they want or keep your landmark status and shut your mouth and help pay for the renovations and restrictions you are placing on them. Smart business people. Not to mention I would love to have a nice hotel right next to the stadium so when I come to town I can stay right there. Yes I live out of state and come to spend my expendable income at the best place on the planet. Wrigley Field and Chicago.

  30. Fiona Dec. 2, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Every other damn stadium gets subsidies through this amusement tax, the Cubs just want a bigger share of it. God knows why this team is a profitable venture but it is, so it’s actually a better use of tax money – hey, maybe the Ricketts family will just sell the naming rights to finance repairs after all and THEN everyone will be really howling.

  31. Fiona Dec. 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    And a P.S. to this comment: Everyone seems to think that the Ricketts want to raise everyone’s taxes. THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO PAY THE TAX ARE THE PEOPLE WHO GET “AMUSED”, I.E. GO TO BALL GAMES, CONCERTS, ETC. The rest of us who watch games on TV don’t pay it…

  32. PistolPete44 Dec. 2, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    If the cubs want to upgrade then they can pay it themselves. our state is
    broke boys, and people are out of work. just have those millionaire ball
    players pass the hat after each game, pretty soon they will little by little fix this, fix that, and next thing you know renovations are done.
    Guess who pays for all those ballplayrs, us schumcks, that is who, we
    are the fools, goofs that over pay these guys.

  33. @Neuman Dec. 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    “The money the Ricketts family wants to use to repay the debt does not currently exist. It will only exist if the renovation occurs, so their is no stealing from state programs to pay for this work to be done.”

    Neuman, you don’t have the foggiest. With both real and inflation-based increases in ticket prices, the city and county’s takes would rise over time, even if nothing changes. The Ricketts basically want to monetize inflation and capture it for themselves.

    Stadiums are horrible deals. There are plenty of studies of the economic impact, and it is negligible. Plus, they would have to be stupid to even consider moving the Cubs, as the draw is clearly Wrigley rather than the team. As the wise poet once said, “Cubs – Wrigley = Padres.”

  34. @CubsFanJ Dec. 2, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    “They can not tell you what you can and can’t do in renovations or what time of day you run your business if they are not going to work with in through tax breaks or loans.”

    Sure they can. The Ricketts knew about the landmark status of the stadium when they bought it. Here’s a big hint – try “renovating” your house to include commercial space and let us know how that works. Or do you think residential zoning regulations that tell you what you can’t do in renovations aren’t legal?

    “Sorry folks it against the law to place those limits on a private business”

    Really? Restrictions affect almost every piece of property.

  35. Rob Gibson Dec. 3, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.

    While we are at it lets add some more big dumb signs to our coveted outfield. I have been a Cubs fan my entire life but this is getting nutty. Our Wrigleyville as we see it will be gone in 5 years at this rate. Our local bars that we love will be replaced with chain restaurants.

    -Loyal fan on boycott. Say no Chicago. At some point we need to make a stand what we love.

  36. Amy Dec. 3, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    How does this Dennis Culloton guy still have a job as the company spokesman? This company has done nothing but botch their pr moves from day one (raising ticket prices before talking about how great the team and the fans are…the list goes on). Let’s get a real pr team in there because Ricketts needs someone to smooth over his greedy, all business approach.

  37. JoeKY Dec. 8, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Everyone in college need to know about scholarships for women in order to NOT have debt when you get out of college!