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Cubs Pitch Idea of Taxpayer-Backed Service District Boosting Area Security

By Serena Dai | April 5, 2013 5:31pm
 Mike Lufrano, the Cubs' executive vice president of community affairs, shows East Lake View Neighbors Wrigley Field renovation renderings on Feb. 5, 2013.
Mike Lufrano, the Cubs' executive vice president of community affairs, shows East Lake View Neighbors Wrigley Field renovation renderings on Feb. 5, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — The Chicago Cubs have backed away from a request for public money to renovate Wrigley Field, but team officials have floated an idea in recent days of having a taxpayer-funded special service district help boost security outside the ballpark.

A team official discussed the idea with officials who work with the special service area's board, but have not made a formal request.

Special service areas are local tax districts that fund expanded city services for the area, such as beautification, more street cleaning and more trash pick-up. Property owners within the district automatically pay into it. 

Special Service Area #17 — or SSA #17 — is run by the Central Lakeview Merchants Association, a local chamber of commerce. It encompasses Clark Street north of Belmont, Sheffield from Diversey to Irving Park and Belmont from Racine to Halsted — which includes the area around Wrigley Field, meaning the Cubs pay into it, too. A board of commissioners must approve the budget. 

This year's budget is about $700,000, Central Lakeview Merchants executive director Gus Isacson said at this week's SSA meeting. 

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the idea was discussed as a way to put more security on the streets and they "have not asked SSA for a dime." The team's security proposals include the Cubs paying for up to 10 off-duty police officers to patrol after games, regardless of whether the SSA adds officers, he said. 

He also noted that the team is the largest contributor to the SSA. The idea is that taxpayer money could add officers to go "above and beyond what we're doing," he said.

"Safety and security is a concern of the neighbors," he said.

It's not unprecedented for SSAs to fund private security within a district — especially a busy entertainment one like #17 — and a portion of SSA #17's budget is set aside for security. But the amount is too small to help an organization as big as the Cubs, a source with knowledge of the budget said. The 2012 budgets for SSA's have not yet been released for public view.

"We can't create money to give them," the source said.

The Cubs sought public funding to help pay for the $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field but backed off due to lack of support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Ricketts family then said they'd pay for all of the renovation if the city eased restrictions such as night games, Friday afternoon games and signs in the field. 

One of Ald. Tom Tunney's main sticking points before he'd sign off on eased restrictions was that the team must provide security solutions during games.

After weeks of negotiations, the Cubs expect to move forward by Monday, a team source said.

The Cubs are prepared to cover the cost of up to 10 officers outside the park. But the Cubs' Mike Lufrano told the Central Lakeview Merchant's board on Thursday that he wants to discuss having the SSA fund any security beyond that, people present at the meeting said and Green confirmed. 

"I think they threw it out there to see if there's meat to it," one source said. "It's another way to get public financing."

The idea had been milling around even before Thursday, said another source who is a commissioner on the the SSA board and was present for the Central Lakeview meeting. 

The source said that although Lufrano did not offer an official proposal on Thursday, it was "very clear" that the idea of asking for the SSA to contribute to security costs was not dead.

"He wanted them to know that was a possibility," the source said.

Mark H. Knight, the chair of the SSA's commission, which must approve the budget, did not return calls for comment.

The Cubs and Wrigley Field are 95 percent owned by a trust established for the benefit of the family of Joe Ricketts, owner and CEO of DNAinfo.com Chicago. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the team's day-to-day operations.