Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts caused a stir Wednesday when he said publicly for the first time that he would consider moving the team if moneymaking outfield signs central to his Wrigley Field renovation plan failed to win the city's blessing. The surprise utterance may have been a brushback pitch as the approval process gets underway or merely a wild-pitch response to a hypothetical question posed to a businessman still adjusting to the spotlight. Either way, the resulting frenzy led Ricketts and his spokesmen to spend the rest of the day tamping down the remark and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to assure Chicago that the Wrigley plan remains on track. Owners of the rooftop clubs who oppose new signs that would block their lucrative views, meanwhile, argued that Ricketts was bluffing about moving away. The flap came the same day the Cubs formally submitted stadium renovation plans to the city, launching a monthslong process that will include public hearings. During those sessions, the pros and cons of a proposed 6,000-square-foot video board in left field and a 1,000-square-foot sign in right are sure to be debated. Before the paperwork was filed, however, Ricketts spoke to a packed room of movers and shakers at a City Club of Chicago breakfast. He was asked by an audience member what he would do if the outfield signs were rejected in the face of opposition. The team hopes the signs generate $20 million a year to pay for the $300 million ballpark renovation and to invest more money in the baseball team. "I'm not sure how anyone is going to stop the signs in the outfield, but if it comes to the point that we don't have the ability to do what we need to do in our outfield, then we're going to have to consider moving," Ricketts replied. "It's as simple as that." Afterward, Ricketts offered some clarification. "The fact is we are committed to try to work this out," Ricketts told reporters. "We've always said that we want to win in Wrigley Field, but we also need to generate the revenue we need to compete as a franchise. Having the ability to put video boards and signs in the outfield is very important to us." Later in the day, on WMVP-AM 1000, the Cubs chairman toned it down even more. "I think everything is going to be fine," Ricketts said. "There is so much at stake for the city, for the neighborhood, for the team, for the fans that everyone has enough incentive to make sure we do this the right way and get it done." Ricketts' talk of a potential departure caused such a media firestorm partly because he had not previously raised the idea of leaving, as many teams do when negotiating stadium deals, even though he's been talking renovation since his family bought the team in 2009. He has repeatedly expressed his affection for the ballpark and his family's intention to preserve Wrigley for future generations, even after he lost a bid for public financing. The mayor adopted an "everything's OK" approach, noting that the outfield signs, if not their precise size, were agreed to in a framework plan hammered out over weeks of intense negotiations among Ricketts, Emanuel and 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney. "One of the reasons we had a framework was there is now certainty around what they needed," Emanuel said. "There will be a Jumbotron in left field. There will be a sign in right field, things that they think are necessary. There also will be signage in the plaza."
Ricketts threatens to move Cubs without OK for Wrigley upgrades
Chicago Tribune | May 2