In a surprising assertion, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says his city is close to a deal with the Chicago Cubs to help fund renovations to Wrigley Field.
Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has repeatedly called for city or state help in renovating the Chicago landmark, which will be 100 years old in 2014. He's pitched a plan where the team would build the so-called triangle building next to the ballpark, with $200 million in additional ballpark improvements funded by either a share of the city amusement tax or the issuing of bonds from a state body. Such improvements could be undertaken along the lines of a years-old Wrigley Field 2014 plan, which detailed the features in the new triangle building (which would include restaurants, team offices, parking and party space on the roof) as well as enhancements to the ballpark.
Since buying the team and the ballpark, Ricketts has put money into the baseball operations but not much into the ballpark itself. And while the notion of a private business owner seeking public assistance to eventually line his own pockets has been repugnant to many -- including Emanuel, who spoke against any Wrigley Field aid when running for office -- it appears Ricketts may have turned the corner in his quest for public money.
Not that Emanuel is saying much in specifics, though the Chicago Tribune is reporting such aid could take the form of a reduction in amusement taxes in exchange for the team putting up more in additonal spending on specific ballpark improvements. The Ricketts plan of spending on a revenue-producing building while the city puts money into the actual ballpark does appear to be dead: "I will not put my money in their field so they can take their money and invest around the field and get greater economic value," Emanuel said. Other options: extending a downtown restaurant tax all the way up to Wrigleyville, or working with the state to issue bonds, which would be repaid by the team. (The advantage: the state can borrow money at a lower rate than Ricketts could borrow on the open market.)
The bottom line: Chicago and Illinois officials say they won't put any money into Wrigley Field without the Ricketts family doing the same. That's a huge shift from the last time Ricketts floated state aid for the team, and it looks like it will make a huge difference in the team finalizing a deal.
RELATED STORIES: Ricketts: Time to talk Wrigley Field public funding again; Want to buy a chunk of Wrigley Field? Dream on; Gammon rips Wrigley Field, defends Ricketts; Mayor Rahm: No to city aid for Wrigley Field; Poll: Voters oppose public funding of Wrigley Field renovations; State funding of Wrigley Field renovations dies as Assembly adjourns
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