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Cubs Owners Propose Hotel near Chicago's Wrigley Field in Association
with a $300 Million Renovation of the Aging Ballpark

Ricketts Family in Agreement with Starwood Hotels & Resorts
to Develop Boutique Property

By Ameet Sachdev, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 18, 2013--The owners of the Chicago Cubs said Thursday that they would like to build a hotel next to Wrigley Field, a proposal that sweetens their bid for tax incentives and other government assistance to help pay for a $300 million renovation of the aging ballpark.

The Ricketts family said it has an agreement with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., whose brands include Sheraton and the Westin, to develop a boutique hotel on property the family owns on the northwest corner of Clark and Addison streets that it acquired in 2011 from McDonald's Corp.

The hotel proposal comes as the owners try to jump-start talks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the General Assembly on a plan to finance improvements at Wrigley, which will be 100 years old next year. Negotiations with Emanuel broke down last year after revelations about the political efforts in the presidential election by a member of the family upset the mayor.

The Ricketts family has framed the renovation of Wrigley as important not only to the team but also to the city's economy and its efforts to draw tourists. The family is willing to move forward with redeveloping property it owns around Wrigley with private dollars in exchange for government assistance that could include tax money to pay for a stadium face-lift.

Until now, the family's development plans centered on a triangle-shaped parking lot next to Wrigley that could become a museum, retail shops and a restaurant. The owners upped the ante by proposing a hotel, a project that would create jobs and fill a need for lodging in the neighborhood.

"Once we know how we can save Wrigley Field, the Ricketts family is looking forward to the opportunity to build a hotel across the street," said family spokesman Dennis Culloton. "It could complement the neighborhood and its establishments while also serving fans and tourists."

The mayor's office had no comment on the hotel proposal or whether it has had any recent discussions about Wrigley with Cubs officials.

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, whose ward encompasses Wrigley, said the Ricketts family is trying to build community and political support for the Wrigley renovations by expanding the scope of its redevelopment plans. He added that he likes the idea of a hotel near the ballpark because the Cubs attract so many out-of-town visitors.

The Ricketts family has said since buying the Cubs and the ballpark in 2009 that it had no plans to leave the National League's oldest stadium. But the stadium is in desperate need of makeover. It lacks certain basic amenities, such as adequate entrances and exits, proper access for the disabled, wide concourses to ease congestion, and modern restrooms and concession areas.

Given the precedent of public financing for stadiums for the White Sox and Bears, the Ricketts family has sought government assistance to renovate Wrigley. In November 2010, the family floated the idea of having the state borrow $300 million that would be backed by sales taxes the team collects on every ticket sold.

The timing was odd: Then-Mayor Richard Daley had announced two months earlier that he would not run again, creating a political vacuum. The plan went nowhere in Springfield.

The family took the proposal to Emanuel. In the face of shrinking government revenues, the mayor was not eager to give away tax dollars to a wealthy family that could finance Wrigley improvements in the private markets.

But the mayor recognized the importance of the Cubs and Wrigley to the local economy. The two sides discussed a $150 million tax package backed by ticket fees. They also talked about easing restrictions imposed by the stadium's landmark status that would allow the Ricketts family to increase advertising inside Wrigley.

The negotiations abruptly ended last spring. Joe Ricketts, the conservative billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade whose family trust was used to buy the Cubs from Tribune Co., became embroiled in a political controversy over possible attack ads against President Barack Obama. The revelations made Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, furious.

Culloton, the family spokesman, said the hotel idea emerged from sponsorship talks Cubs marketing officials had with Starwood, now the "official hotel" of the team. The McDonald's property also could include a health club.

The Ricketts family's hotel project may gain community support because another proposal to build a hotel in the neighborhood has stalled. Developer Steven Schultz is trying to raise money for a project just south of Wrigley Field that would include a 137-room hotel, apartments and retail space. The Chicago City Council approved zoning for the project in 2010.

Twitter @ameetsachdev


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