The owner of the Chicago Cubs publicly threatened for the first time Wednesday to move the team out of Wrigley Field if his plans for a big, new video screen are blocked, saying he needs millions of dollars in ad revenue to help bankroll the renovation of the storied ballpark.
"The fact is that if we don't have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we'll have to take a look at moving — no question," Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts told reporters after a speech to Chicago business leaders outlining plans for a $500 million renovation of the 99-year-old stadium.
It was the first time during months of contentious negotiations over the Wrigley Field renovation plans that Ricketts threatened to move the team out of the lively North Side neighborhood of bars and restaurants that adds to the historic park's allure with tourists and baseball fans.
By far the thorniest issue is the plan for a 6,000-square-foot video screen over left field, like those in most ballparks. The difference in Chicago is that the stadium — the second oldest in Major League Baseball behind Fenway Park in Boston — is surrounded by privately owned clubs that have built rooftop bleachers and object to any changes to the park that could block their bird's-eye views.
Because they have a contract in which they share 17 percent of their revenue with the Cubs, the rooftop businesses feel they should have a seat at the bargaining table and legal action is a possibility. They have been left out of the talks.
Ricketts presented an architectural rendering of the video screen during his speech to the City Club of Chicago and insisted it would have minimal if any impact on the views. He said without such signage, the team was losing out on $20 million a year in ad revenue — essential for helping fund extensive renovations without dipping into taxpayer funds.
"All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum," Ricketts told the audience.
One of the rooftop owners, Beth Murphy, sat in on the speech and told reporters afterward that it was the first time she'd seen any drawings of the screen and that she and other owners would have a lot of vetting to do before determining if the proposal works.
"It looked big to me and it looked like it blocked out the neighborhood," she said.
The rooftop owners have previously threatened legal action, and Murphy said she was confident their contract would hold up and protect their businesses.
Ricketts said the team formally filed its renovation proposal with the city of Chicago on Wednesday. The plan must get approval from city planners and the City Council. There will also be public hearings on the plan.