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Meanwhile, Cities and Stadiums Come Together in a Marriage of Bad Priorities

January 3, 2008

AIA picture of historic Wrigley FieldFrom here in Chicago, Mayor Daley II the Benevolent has softened his former stance on having a state agency purchase venerable Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. The whole idea of using tax-exempt bonds through an “independent” state agency means that the public has little say on how we, the taxpayers, incur debt– these bonds do not come up to a vote. And the seller of the field can make his own price, make off with more upfront taxpayer loot, when surely a private firm would buy the aging ball field.

From the Sun-Times:

Two weeks after condemning the idea, Mayor Daley on Wednesday changed his tune about the idea of having a state agency acquire and renovate Wrigley Field.

“I have an open mind. . . . I always have an open mind on an issue. And why not? You should have it,” the mayor said….

“Well, I think they realize it’s much more complicated . . . and that’s very, very important. We have a crisis at the CTA, and we have to get that crisis over with for both the CTA and Metra for long-term funding. That is the priority we should have,” he said….

Last month, the mayor appeared to be dead-set against the idea of having the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — which built U.S. Cellular Field — acquire and renovate Wrigley.

“We can’t even get any money for the CTA, and they’re worried about the Chicago Cubs? They’ve made money every year. It’s very profitable and some way we’re supposed to bail them out? . . . It’s hard to believe,” Daley said on that day….

Since then, sources said the mayor and his staff have been fully briefed on a deal that would guarantee Zell a huge up-front payment for Wrigley — tens of millions higher than he might otherwise receive selling the stadium privately — by having the ISFA use its power to issue tax-exempt, longer-term bonds at a reduced interest rate.

The bonds would be retired by 30 years of stadium rent from a new owner who would sign an “ironclad commitment” to remain at Wrigley during that time.

“They now understand what it is that’s been proposed. There’s a lot of positives here for the city and state,” said a source familiar with the deal.

The only issue would be the name; most purchasers would want to make some cake back on the naming rights, rebranding the stadium AT&T’s Wrigley Field… or US Cellular Field or something ridiculous like that. But the chair of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority has mentioned using naming rights with a corporate attachment… so I have no idea why the state of Illinois is so gung-ho about talking about this non-issue of a rich guy who wants more upfront loot, and the governing body extremely willing to enable him.

From another article in the Sun-Times:

Tax dollars could be used to fund neighborhood improvements tied to the renovation of Wrigley Field, but the stadium deal will not go to the Legislature until the mass transit crisis is resolved, a statewide capital plan is approved and the casino gambling issue is decided, a top official said Friday.

“If restoration includes things for the neighborhood — like parking — then using tax dollars for that would not be inappropriate,” said former Gov. James R. Thompson, chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the state agency that built U.S. Cellular Field and could acquire and renovate Wrigley.

But, Thompson warned, “That can’t happen until all of these other issues are settled. They [state lawmakers] would look at me and say, ‘You’re crazy. We have to get those three other things first.'”…

New Tribune Co. CEO Sam Zell said this week he hopes to sell the Cubs and the stadium by opening day, March 31. But Zell said he has delayed the sale of the team until he determines prospects for a state acquisition of Wrigley that he called “very beneficial” for the Cubs, the city, the state and the “future of Major League Baseball in this city.”…

Referring to Zell, Thompson said, “He’s the seller. I’m waiting for him to tell me what he wants for Wrigley Field. Then we can say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ . . . The less the ballpark costs, the more resources [from future rent and naming rights] we could use for restoration.”

Thompson said Wrigley “desperately needs restoration,” but he won’t know how much it would cost or how it would be financed until the Cubs’ new owners decide how far they want to go and until architects and engineers do an inspection of the stadium.

The Cubs have a long way to go before they would even think of leaving the city of Chicago; and many outlets would pony up the money to keep the team and the field on Addison. And this open pocketbook conversation is a serious disservice to the image of fiscal responsibility, especially in light of the Chicago Transit Authority’s issues– the main city in the state wants the Olympics, but can’t even keep its transit system in the black, let alone expand/ fix the system to make it appropriate for thousands upon thousands of visiting Olympic attendees, let alone the people who have to slog to work on the trains and buses.

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