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Ricketts Family Plans Athletic Club In New Hotel, Pressures Emanuel On Wrigley Deal

CHICAGO (STMW) -- The billionaire family that owns the Cubs sweetened the pot Wednesday in an apparent attempt to prod Mayor Rahm Emanuel into siding with the team in the dispute over Wrigley Field signage that's holding up a $300 million plan to renovate the historic ballpark.

The Ricketts family announced that it has signed a letter of intent with Chicago Athletic Clubs to open a 40,000-square-foot "state-of-the-art" athletic club in the boutique Sheraton hotel the family hopes to build on the northwest corner of Clark and Addison.

The hotel is part of a $500 million development in limbo because of the dispute between the Cubs and the rooftops over signage inside the ballpark.

"My family is prepared to invest $500 million into Wrigley Field and the Wrigleyville neighborhood — one of the top tourist destinations in the state. All of this can happen if we can reach a common-sense solution that allows us to run our business," Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts was quoted as saying in a news release.

"This would be one of the biggest investments in the city today and a vote of confidence in Chicago….Just as important, reinvesting in Wrigley Field is a major investment in building a championship organization by providing better facilities for our players and new resources for our baseball operation."

Ricketts said the $500 million project would create 2,000 jobs and generate $19 million in new tax revenues for the city, county and state.

"Renovating Wrigley Field, creating a plaza for fans and neighbors, developing a boutique hotel including a Chicago Athletic Club will deliver an additional $94 million annual economic impact on top of the nearly $640 million Wrigley field and the Cubs produce today for our city and state," Ricketts said.

If the health club announcement was supposed to be a pressure tactic, it failed miserably with Emanuel.

"It didn't work when the Cubs were demanding public financing and it won't work now," said a mayoral confidante, who asked to remain anonymous.

In late January, Ricketts abruptly ended his multi-year quest for a public subsidy to help bankroll a sorely needed renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley.

He offered to go it alone — and build a $200 million hotel development on McDonald's property he purchased across the street from the stadium — provided the city lifts restrictions on outfield signs and night games and opens Sheffield for street fairs on game days.

With support from local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), rooftop club owners who share 17 percent of their revenues with the team responded by pitching their plan to generate $17.9 million-a-year to bankroll the stadium renovation — by putting seven digital signs on top of their buildings instead of inside the ballpark blocking their views.

But they're still striking out with the Cubs, who argue that there's far more money to be made by putting up signs inside the ballpark that can be seen during television broadcasts of Cubs games.

Emanuel has been trying to broker a deal that allows the rooftops to survive and thrive and still give the Cubs the sign revenue they need to renovate the landmark stadium.

Last month, Emanuel said there was a deal to be made between the Cubs and the rooftops that would generate the $300 million needed to renovate Wrigley Field if only the competing parties would show some leadership and "seize it."

"We're not gonna break off a piece as it relates to that ordinance, which is on night games. It's all one piece. We're gonna do this comprehensively," the mayor said at the time.

"There's an agreement to be had. It's right there. All you need is a little leadership and a little will. It's right there at the table. There is an agreement readily available for all the parties and I have stressed to them repeatedly: Seize it. I believe they will. But it took some time [for the Cubs] to realize also that city taxpayers were not gonna be subsidizing them."

Pressed to pinpoint the hang-up, Emanuel refused to negotiate in public.

He would only say, "When you are compromising or giving up on something you think is important, you want to see — not that somewhere else it's compensated, but understand that the overall deal is still of value for you. You win things, you lose things. You've got to look at the sum total and realize that this is still good. I believe the parties will see that."

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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