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Furor builds over Ricketts proposal

Monday, Nov 15, 2010 - Posted by Rich Miller

* It’s tough to argue with this Sun-Times editorial board logic

The Chicago Cubs’ new owners, like the previous owners, are making a move to hit up Chicago taxpayers to the tune of $200 million to pay for renovations at Wrigley Field.

The money ultimately would come from 35 years of future growth in an amusement tax that the city levies on tickets and concessions at Wrigley.

That’s money that otherwise would go straight into the city’s tapped-out general fund — money the city desperately needs for essential services such as paved streets and police and fire protection.

It’s money that would have to be made up somehow.

If this deal goes through, future Chicago mayors could be forced to raise taxes and fees elsewhere or cut basic city services even more deeply.

And for what?

To fix up a privately owned baseball park for one of the most profitable sports teams in the country.

Talk about a corked bat.

Tom Ricketts and his brothers and sister are grown-ups. They knew exactly what they were doing last year when they bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field from the Tribune Company for $845 million.

The Tribune has editorialized recently on Twinkies, Metra pollution, tax hikes and casino expansion, paycheck fairness and civil unions. Nothing on the Ricketts Bonds, however.

* But, forget the city’s editorial pages. A couple of far more powerful enemies have popped up: The Bears and the White Sox

Bonds for the Cell will be paid off in 2021. Soldier Field bonds will be retired in 2031. If amusement tax growth is not great enough by then to retire the Wrigley bonds, the Cubs intend to borrow from the hotel tax and pay it back by extending the life of the bonds.

That could force the city and state to forfeit amusement tax growth for even longer than 35 years.

But here’s the catch: If the Cubs move to the head of the line, the Bears and Sox could be deprived of the money they may need to complete stadium renovations.

“They’re assuming we won’t need any major work at Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field. These are assets of the state and city that need to be upgraded,” said a source familiar with the deal.

“Twenty years from now, the Bears may say, ‘For us to stay, we need this and this.’ … The Cubs are saying, ‘When the bonds run out, it’ll go to us. The hell with you.’”

* The team’s new owner is attempting to calm the waters, but he’s only somewhat addressing the points mentioned by the CS-T

Cubs Executive Chairman Tom Ricketts tried Friday to calm the uproar. In several radio interviews, he said Cubs fans are on the hook, not the at-large taxpayer on the South Side, in Peoria or in Carbondale.

“The dollars are only coming from people who buy Cubs tickets, and only the increase over what they pay today,” Ricketts said on WGN-AM 720. […]

Ricketts argued that the city and county can’t count on incremental revenue from the Wrigley amusement tax if the Cubs don’t refurbish the 96-year-old ballpark. The growth in the amusement tax will primarily come from increasing ticket prices. Ricketts said it’s easier to justify higher tickets prices over time in a renovated stadium.

“The increases (in the amusement tax) won’t exist unless we fix up the park,” Ricketts told WGN.

The trouble is, the new owner wants to tap all the money from the amusement tax increase. If they could split it with the city and county, they might have a better case. Or, they could raise the tax and only tap that cash.

This is just not true

Brian Battle, a director at Chicago-based investment adviser Performance Trust Capital Partners, suggested this tack: “If you are a Sox fan, they are not asking you to pay for anything.”

Yes, they are. The Ricketts want all that new tax revenue, which would otherwise go to municipal coffers.

* Mayor Daley’s reaction is lukewarm at best

“I can’t rule it in or out. It is a good proposal, but like anything else, we have to see what effect this has on the revenue. And that’s very important, especially when you’re looking at nickels and dimes. That’s what we’re looking at. People are taking furlough days off, cutting pay and all that. So, you know, it’s difficult,” the mayor said.

Daley said there are other ways to renovate Wrigley Field besides the bond proposal.

* It might be nice if the team waited until after the mayoral election to do this. At the very least, the top candidates should weigh in one way or the other. Two already have

“While many Chicagoans feel affection for Wrigley Field and the Cubs, I have reservations about asking taxpayers to provide funding to a private company at a time when basic city services like our education and public safety systems are being impacted by the state of the city’s finances,” said Rahm Emanuel.

Gery Chico also said, “I don’t think that’s the proper way to fund any renovation of Wrigley Field. Those monies go for essential municipal services — whether it’s police, fire or Streets and Sanitation.”

* Daley got it right

Daley said it’s important to preserve Wrigley but isn’t sure it’s appropriate to saddle his successor with decades of payments using revenue that would otherwise go into city coffers.

* And Rick Telander doesn’t mince words

I mean, didn’t we just come through the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression by buying crap that people such as the Rickettses told us was hot stuff?

Clever folks in the financial-services field, such as the Rickettses, know how the game is rigged. Always against the little people.

Remember a year ago when Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said he and his commission-rich underlings were doing ‘’God’s work'’?

If the bond scheme these Cubs owners are trying to foist on us — with the help of government reps such as Illinois state Senate President John Cullerton — does pass, it’s the devil’s work.

The Rickettses have revealed themselves. They might love the Cubs, but they love other people’s money more.



  1. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 12:52 pm:

    Tear it down and move the team to Wheeling.

  2. - Excessively Rabid - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 12:53 pm:

    No. Just no.

  3. - Skeeter - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:00 pm:

    Isn’t Ricketts a big Republican? I thought those people were against government bailouts.

  4. - Logical Thinker - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:00 pm:

    I’m surprised that more people haven’t caught on to the most glaring piece of the puzzle:

    The Ricketts are basically lobbying to keep the INCREASE in the amusement tax in the future. The only way they will get that increase is if they jack ticket prices through the roof.

    So, here’s to you Cub fans who are going to pay 2-3x’s as much to sit in a decaying ballpark watching decaying players. Talk about a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

  5. - Vote Quimby! - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:06 pm:

    I doubt Mark Cuban would’ve asked the public to pay for Wrigley repairs…

    How about building a winning team and paying for it yourself through increased ticket prices? Oh, you were shocked to actually see empty seats at Wrigley the last half of the year? Yeah, it sucks for us sports fans…you know, losing jobs and the like. We have to watch on TV or actually do something productive. Our dad can’t buy us a MLB team to play with…

    You bought it, you fix it. Maybe next year there will be a TV show “Undercover Fan” to show what it takes to even go to a game…

  6. - EazyTurner - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:09 pm:

    Skeeter-Even better, the elder Ricketts spent millions of dollars this past election cycle on PAC’s devoting to cutting earmarks and government waste!


  7. - EazyTurner - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:10 pm:

    err scratch that, this link has more on the Rickett’s hypocrisy:

  8. - shore - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:11 pm:

    One of the problems with reading things online is that you miss reading the entire paper. the tribune had a cartoon sunday which had the wrigley field scoreboard and under it

    Rickets 300,000,000
    taxpayers 0 or something to that effect.

    I would be interested to learn what congressman quigley who represents that district thinks as well as to see the campaign fec reports for who the ricketts family has given to in the state.

    I would say a big no to this. What are they going to do, threaten to move the team to omaha?

  9. - chiatty - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:13 pm:

    This has about the same chance of success as the Cubs do of winning the World Series next year, 45-1.

  10. - The Fox - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:20 pm:

    The only way to renovate Wrigley Field is to gut it, tear it down except for the facade and build another monstrosity like Soldier Field II sans parking or public transportation. Better yet, tear down the hotel at Arlington Heights adjacent to the race track for a domed stadium with easy tollway access, RTA to front door and tons of parking.

  11. - Nearly Normal - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:23 pm:

    No, you bought it “as is.” It’s yours to fix up, not the burden of the taxpayers.

    I am a Cubs fan but not so much a Ricketts fan now that their management style has been exposed.

  12. - lake county democrat - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:25 pm:

    I say make the deal contingent on the first world series championship.

  13. - Jake Utler - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:31 pm:

    I really wanted to like this guy. I thought he handily won the day with his first press conference. But everything since then—everything—has been a debacle. Retaining Hendry through last year while sorting out the mess was one thing, but retaining him going forward is another. Keeping Crane Kenney around is awful. Showing up wearing Harry Caray glasses (like the common bleacher doofuses who give us real Cubs fans a horrible name) for the statue movement was disheartening to see. And now, a little over one year since he, a billionaire mind you, bought his dream team, he is asking for public funding to update his stadium.

    Listen, I started going to that park when I was 4. I love it (hate the tourists and frat boys but love the park). But I don’t want them getting one damn penny of public funding.

    It’s a new day out there. Everyone’s being told the handouts are drying up. First in line (well maybe second after the politically connected contratees of course) for the Dried Up Handout Line is Ricketts.

    Tell your story walkin’, Bleacher Boy. Try spending more time on improving the talent for starters.

  14. - The Doc - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:32 pm:

    The Ricketts’ proposal is a TIF, by and large - freeze the tax revenue at current levels, and skim the increase for a defined period of time.

    And while Chicagoans should be familiar with how TIFs are abused by the Daley administration, this one is arguably worse, since the funds are dedicated exclusively to fund a single, privately held enterprise.

    I’m a Cubs fan, but if Ricketts is interested in increasing revenue, he needs to do what every other private sector business does - create a better product using his own resources.

  15. - wndycty - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:38 pm:

    @EazyTurner thanks for the shout out! Its crazy that the Ricketts’ father has taken such an aggressive stance towards “wasteful government spending.”

  16. - hisgirlfriday - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:46 pm:

    What sort of “improvements” do the Ricketts family have in mind for all this tax money anyway?

    I mean was it really that great of an idea painting the Wrigley Field sign purple for their “Northwestern is Chicago’s Big Ten Team” marketing stunt today? They already busted the Harry Caray statue for this game and now this?

    Makes me sick to my stomach as a Cubs fan seeing that sign painted purple, especially in celebration of a game against my Illini

  17. - Wumpus - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:48 pm:

    So does Daddy Ricketts have anything to do with the Baseball club?

  18. - Just the Facts - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 1:49 pm:

    Lousy idea and bad timing by Ricketts. Maybe he should ask for slots at Wrigley like the horse track owners.

  19. - Vote Quimby! - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 2:09 pm:

    Do they not know how many Cub fans are also Illini fans? Painting the marquee purple? For Northwestern? Gonna make this post a Cub thread which Rich loves…

  20. - Old Hand - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 2:25 pm:

    I think it’s funny how all of you posters react without knowing any details about the project. @the Doc - A TIF takes other businesses taxes and puts them toward a specific project. From what I’ve seen, this proposal only takes FROM WRIGLEY to go back to Wrigley. The incremental taxes wouldn’t exist without Wrigley! Fundamentally different. Seems to me to be a pretty fair way to increase tax revenue from the area overall, not to mention the Ricketts’s are putting up $200M of their own money.

  21. - IrishPirate - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 2:49 pm:

    Whether the proposal has merit or not is not the “political” issue.

    This ain’t gonna fly, politically.

    The “optics” are bad. Real bad.

    As for the Ricketts family I’m sure they will somehow manage to eke out a living without the additional money from the tax.

  22. - Anon - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 2:59 pm:

    Old Hand why not just use an increase in the ticket prices to pay for it?

  23. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:01 pm:

    They could use a PSL to pay for it as well.

  24. - TJ - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:04 pm:

    Look, I’m not in favor of this plan, but I’m kind of curious why there’s so much outrage over this renovation plan when the folks that voted for partial state funding of New Comiskey are lauded as heroes for keeping the White Sox on the South Side.

  25. - Skeeter - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:07 pm:

    GM bailout: Bad.
    Unemployment insurance: Bad.
    Baseball team bailout: Good.
    Have to love the Ricketts logic.

    Not to digress, but I looked up Reinsdorf’s donations to see if there is a contradiction with his Sox park bailout and his contributions. That guy’s donations seem to be all over the board.

  26. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:08 pm:

    ===lauded as heroes for keeping the White Sox on the South Side.===

    Do you really think the Cubs are gonna leave?

  27. - TJ - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:12 pm:

    ===Do you really think the Cubs are gonna leave?===

    No, of course not, but does that mean that if Ricketts starts crying and moaning like Reinsdorf about needing state funding for their renovations that it’s magically okay? Also (and I apologize if I’m wrong, please correct me if I am), haven’t the many renovations to Comiskey over the course of the past decade been partially funded by the state dime as well?

  28. - wordslinger - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:38 pm:

    The Ricketts family are a laugh riot.

    Last year, they spent $850 million on the Cubs, then poured hundreds of thousands into Tea Party loony Sharon Angle and now…..

    …right after election day they start begging for taxpayer money for their ballpark.

    These Tea Partiers have owned the team for less than a year, and they’re crying for taxpayer money. Ask Soriano, Ramirez, Fukudome and Zambrano to kick in. They’re not doing anything, anyway.

    By the way, they can’t “tear down” Wrigley Field. It’s a landmark. They can move. They can call their friendly banker to finance that new ballpark in the suburbs anytime they want to, lol.

    They have no leverage, but they have about the brainpower you’ve come to expect from Cubs ownership.

  29. - TaxMeMore - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:38 pm:

    TJ, the state owns Comiskey (US Cellular) through the Illinois Sports Facility Authority. Yes, state dimes have gone into that stadium since day one with more than $200 million spent to build it, and then subsidies in the form of free and reduced rent for many years. The White Sox played in the state owned stadium for free at least for 5 seasons while the state paid to run the stadium. And the taxes collected on tickets sold to Cubs games went to help pay for the White Sox new stadium. The Cubs have been subsidizing the White Sox for years.

    What the Cubs are asking for now is about a million times “cheaper” for state taxpayers than anything that was done for the White Sox or Bears. If people think this is a bad idea, if they were the least bit intellectually consistent, they would also be running Reinsdorf out of town and demanding the hundreds of millions back in state aid he got. The state is not paying the electric bill at US Cellular a year late like they are mental health service providers. Tells where Chicago politicians’ priorities lie.

    This Cubs proposal is bad but pales immensely in comparison to the welfare the White Sox have gotten.

  30. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 3:47 pm:

    ===if they were the least bit intellectually consistent,===

    Why should anyone else be consistent when the Ricketts patriarch is so incredibly and completely contradictory? No gummint money for anybody but his own family. Why do anything for somebody like that?

  31. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 4:41 pm:

    @TJ It’s not Comiskey and it’s not owned by the Sox owners. The ISA owns the Cell, and Soldier Field too.

  32. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 4:44 pm:

    Also, if they can mess with Soldier Field to the point it was taken off the National Register, they can tear down Wrigley Field.

  33. - TaxMeMore - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 5:04 pm:

    Maybe the father will give his son a lecture at Thanksgiving. I don’t know how much the father is involved with his son’s doings, including the AZ deal. I agree, don’t give him any money, and we should expect the father to oppose this deal.

    This deal, past deals and future deals are bad because we can’t afford to give welfare to rich people and sports teams.

  34. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 5:09 pm:

    Why don’t the Ricketts’ just add 25 cents to the price of beer?

  35. - Rich Miller - Monday, Nov 15, 10 @ 5:14 pm:

    Cheryl44, I believe the Chicago Park District owns Soldier Field.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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