The [Friday] Papers
"The Ricketts family has been angling to fix aging Wrigley Field since buying the Cubs in 2009, only to see plan after plan of how to pay for improvements fail amid political considerations and public relations gaffes," the Tribune reports.
"Now after months of behind-the-scenes talks between team officials and City Hall, the latest plan to spend $300 million repairing the historic ballpark emerged this week, creating a sense of momentum even as competing interests continue to try to wring out the best deal."
A sense of momentum that apparently won't be interrupted by reporters asking the questions that fall outside of the narrative they are being fed.
"The talks have placed Emanuel in the role of a deal broker."
Enter our hero! But, um, in what scenario would Emanuel not be the deal broker? How have "talks" passively "placed" him there? He's the mayor.
"The mayor is putting the pressure on publicly, saying this week he's "asked all the parties involved to finish this up."
That innocuous statement hardly equates with public pressure. The real story is whatever kind of pressure the mayor is using behind the scenes.
"For Emanuel, getting a Wrigley renovation done, especially without tax money, would be a major coup two years into his tenure."
Really? This is just the latest in a series of renovations of the ol' ballpark, and for the most part inevitable. It might even be underway by now if Rahm didn't (reportedly) let the political views of Joe Ricketts get in the way of pursuing the public's best interests. Should the mayor really be allowed to hold up a project because a business owner opposes the president? Rahm really got a free ride on that one - unlike Ald. Joe Moreno on the the much-less significant Chick-fil-A fiasco.
(Note: Guess who's the money behind DNAinfo Chicago? Joe Ricketts.)
But now Rahm is riding to the rescue of . . . himself!
"Not only would it further burnish his image as a mayor rebuilding the city, Emanuel will have accomplished what his predecessor could not."
First, does Rahm have an image of rebuilding a city? That's the image he tries to project but is it so? And how could he have such an image given that his predecessor had an image of building a city? Who unbuilt it?
Also, was Richard M. Daley really unable to accomplish a Wrigley renovation (which presumes that this is something a mayor should do)? The Tribune Company owned Wrigley Field for most of Daley's tenure. It made its own "improvements" to the ballpark. It's not like it just sat there deteriorating while Daley sat on his ass.
"To that end, Emanuel is prodding all parties to move quickly, said a source in the mayor's office."
But it hasn't been quickly! Wasn't Rahm, again, the one to delay it due to Papa Joe? Or was all that reporting wrong?
"Emanuel believes there's a good shot at bringing all sides together and thinks 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney can play a key role in making that happen, the source said."
Now that's public pressure. And an explicit threat to Tunney delivered from the mayor's office through the Tribune.
"Emanuel also is hoping he doesn't have to take a more aggressive stance and can avoid pushing through a deal that doesn't have the backing of all interest groups, the source added."
He's hoping he doesn't have to push through a deal that doesn't have everyone's backing! But he will if he has to!
This is the kind of story you usually see in the Sun-Times, where Fran Spielman is City Hall's favorite tool of message delivery. The Tribune has its own problems, but usually producing this kind of piece isn't one of them.
"For its part, the team says renovations are necessary to modernize the stadium, protect fans from the crumbling concrete and generate more money to help win an elusive World Series."
Oy. You mean the team currently isn't protecting fans from crumbling concrete? And that one of the richest families in America needs even more money to win a World Series? (Even more than what's already on the way?)
"The breakthrough came when the team removed taxpayer funding from the equation - Emanuel viewed it as an opportunity that needed to be grabbed, the administration source said."
Why is Rahm holding the line this time? I mean, he's right, but probably not for the right reasons.
"The debate raises larger policy issues about how much restraint should government place on a commercial enterprise that benefits from its distinctive urban setting but also benefits the city."
Is that really the larger public policy issue this raises? That somehow government is unduly restraining the Ricketts'?
"We're told what we can do to the park," he said. "We're told what we can do in the park. We're told what we can do around the park. We think, from our position, if you just let us run our business, we can get started on some substantial renovations, make the fan experience better, make the player experience better and really preserve the park for the next 50 years. We're not a museum. We're a business."
Oh for god's sake. Call the wahmbulance! Wrigley Field is a museum. (And you've been saying that for years now; get a new line.) It has landmark status. The Ricketts' knew that going in. And you are a business protected by an anti-trust exemption that would probably be deemed unconstitutional were it to be seriously challenged. Government has done enough for you.
"University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson, who does not support taxpayer subsidies to build sports stadiums, said the Cubs owners have a compelling argument. The city and the Wrigleyville neighborhood owe something to the Cubs because the team has a greater economic impact on the city than Chicago's other professional sports teams, he said."
I've followed Sanderson for years - and interviewed him several times - and I doubt this really reflects his view. But if it does, he's finally wrong about something. The city and Wrigleyville don't owe the Cubs a damn thing. Who made the Cubs - and Wrigley Field - so valuable? The fans. The Cubs have been one of the most ridiculously horrible franchises in sports history; it doesn't derive its value from anything other than the fans. They owe us.
Or, as our very own Joel C. Boehm once wrote: Stewardship matters.
"But Cubs spokesman Julian Green said . . . "
That would be former City Hall, Obama and Miller Coors spokesman Julian Green.
So proceed with caution.
"In 2005, Tribune Co. received city approval to expand the bleachers. In exchange, the owners promised to build a parking garage on the triangular-shaped property just west of the stadium. Tribune Co. never followed through and the Ricketts family has tabled plans for a 'Triangle' building, preferring to keep the space open for an ice rink, farmers' market and other uses."
So much for promises to the neighborhood.
"Many residents support the construction of a hotel, and the prospect of more night games and concerts, said Will DeMille, president of the Lake View Citizens' Council."
And many do not.
"DeMille acknowledged residents of Wrigleyville moved into the area knowing the ballpark was there."
It opened in 1914!
Plenty of Wrigleyville residents moved into the neighborhood before it was even called Wrigleyville. Others moved in perfectly willing to accept the benefits of the ballpark in conjunction with the quite reasonable restrictions put in place to maintain its compatibility with its unique neighborhood location. You could just as easily - and more validly - say that the Ricketts' bought a ballpark knowing it was in the middle of an urban neighborhood and everything that entails.
But look, you might as well just knock the damn thing down at this point anyway. There aren't many of us true believers left. The whole thing has already been ruined. I mean, what's the point of a Wrigley Field that isn't Wrigley Field? It reminds me of when Friar's diner closed in Wicker Park many years ago as the faux retro Diner Deluxe opened; here's a new version of the old version you loved so much because of its serendipitous organic authenticity, which we've replicated here only without all the yucky serendipitous organic authenticity!
Rich people can never leave well enough alone. Which reminds me of this oft-told anecdote:
At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, "Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough."
Reporters on this story don't have to just mediate between our millionaire mayor and the billionaire Cubs. The real public policy this issue raises is how the public interest is protected when it comes to public assets in private hands, including sports franchises, stadiums and the streets around them. The value the Cubs have brought to the city is derived almost solely from the way longtime fans embraced the Wrigley Field panaroma, the rooftops, the (former) lack of advertising inside the ballpark, the bleachers, the day games . . . everything that made Wrigley so charming that it became home to an otherwise forlorn franchise worth even more than the $845 million the Ricketts' paid for it. There is no other reason why the franchise is worth so much. Just losing a lot doesn't do it.
All the Ricketts are doing now is increasing revenue while decreasing the franchise's long-term value. In a way, then, Tom Ricketts is the perfect owner for the times (just like hipster yuppie and faux progressive Joe Moreno is the perfect alderman for what Wicker Park is now, instead of what it once was and should have remained); he's the frat boy from the bleachers who gentrified what was once cool without truly understanding what made it so. He's a modern-day bleacher bum who was never a bum at all but a rich frat kid who moved into the neighborhood and loved everything about it except everything.
In other words, we have already seen The Ghost of Wrigley Future and whatever Rahm and the Ricketts' are up to are just details in a negotiation the public is not invited to. True Cubs fans have already been kicked to the curb and new Cubs fans will never know what being a Cubs fan meant in the first place.
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Posted on January 25, 2013
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