CHICAGO (STMW) — An ambitious, and costly, suggestion to revamp historic but aged Wrigley Field using state bonds has struck out with two powerful officials.
Mayor Daley and Gov. Quinn on Monday shot down the Cubs’ proposal to use 35 years’ worth of amusement-tax growth to finance a $200 million renovation at Wrigley.
Two years after rejecting a similar plan by the Tribune Co., Daley did the same to the Ricketts family, which purchased the team from the Tribune Co. for $845 million.
The mayor said he likes the concept of a stadium renovation plan that would keep the Cubs at Wrigley for at least 35 years and free up the money the Ricketts family needs to develop a triangle building promised to Wrigleyville residents in exchange for a bleacher expansion.
But Daley said he’s not about to saddle his successor with a deal that requires Chicago taxpayers to forfeit 35 years of amusement-tax growth needed to bankroll basic city services.
“That would deny the next mayor — if I sign the agreement and say, ‘Go ahead’ — of the revenue they need to balance the budget,” Daley said. “And government needs money in order to balance budgets.
“We have to really talk about how you finance this without jeopardizing — whether it’s $5 million, $7 million or $8 million of — future growth….It’s a good concept. They’re well-intentioned….but that would really burden the next mayor. You wouldn’t want to do that.”
Daley said he has other ideas on how to bankroll the Wrigley renovation without burdening taxpayers, but he declined to give specifics.
Two years ago, former Gov. Jim Thompson, chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, floated a plan for equity seat licenses, but the Cubs rejected the idea.
Quinn said he, too, is “very skeptical of the whole thing” and plans to put the plan “under a microscope” at a time when the state budget is drowning in as much as $15 billion in red ink.
“We have top priorities in Illinois right now that must be dealt with,” Quinn said, adding that the Ricketts family’s proposal “would not be a top priority for me.”
The governor also has his nose out of joint that the Cubs shared their plan with House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) but left Quinn out of the loop.
“Apparently, they don’t think I’m as important as some others,” Quinn said. “I am important in this matter because I’m goalie for the people of Illinois to make sure they get their top priorities addressed.”
The governor added: “These are private owners of a baseball team. They spent almost $1 billion buying it. They knew what they were buying. To be coming to the people of Illinois for assistance now after an election isn’t a top priority… If they wanted this to happen, they should have talked about it before the election — not after.”
Despite the discouraging comments by Daley and Quinn, the Cubs aren’t about to throw in the towel on the Wrigley renovation plan, according to Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for the Ricketts family. Culloton said team officials “respect our elected officials and will continue meeting with them and their staffs” to explain how the team’s proposal “will create $200 million in additional private-sector investment, create 1,000 construction jobs” and hundreds of permanent jobs.
Daley couldn’t resist taking a shot the Tribune Co.’s stewardship of 96-year-old Wrigley.
“The Tribune and prior owners neglected…that facility for many, many years,” the mayor said. “They took the money out, put it in their pocket and never re-invested” in the stadium.
Three times over a six-week period in 2004, chunks of concrete rained down from the upper deck at Wrigley Field, forcing the Cubs to put up nets to catch it.
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