RIVER NORTH — After weeks of emphasizing a commitment to staying in Lakeview, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said Wednesday the team would think about leaving if a plan to add new signs to Wrigley Field is blocked.
"If it comes to the point that we don't have the ability to do what we need to do in the outfield, we'll have to consider moving," he said at a City Club of Chicago breakfast.
Ricketts said that the team needs flexibility to increase revenue to privately fund $500 million in renovations to the field and neighborhood. Ricketts said he still is committed to working out a deal in Wrigley Field, but putting signage in the field is "a primary focus" moving forward.
It's not a "threat," he said, "it's just a fact."
"The talk of moving is relative to being able to have our flexibility," Ricketts told reporters after the breakfast.
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel brushed off Ricketts' comments.
"No," he said, when asked if he thought the Cubs would ever leave Wrigleyville. "Because one of the reasons we have a framework is 'cause there's now certainty around what they needed."
The mayor, speaking at an unrelated event at the Merchandise Mart, said having such a plan in place eliminated questions about the team's future in the neighborhood.
Emanuel suggested the team might suffer if it left the Friendly Confines.
"They said that they also know from their own business sense how important Wrigley Field is to their business, and how important Chicago is to their business," he said.
The new signs were part of a framework deal reached earlier this month among the major players in the Wrigley Field talks, including Emanuel, the Cubs, and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). The highly anticipated deal had been in negotiations for months.
Ricketts said the team looked into putting a 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron on rooftop buildings instead of inside the stadium, as had been suggested, but the rooftops are not team property.
Ultimately, the Cubs must address revenue lost to the rooftops owners, whom Ricketts called a "direct competitor."
Owners of rooftop buildings have threatened to sue the team if their views are blocked by the signs.
Each year, the team starts out in a $50 million hole compared to other teams due to rooftop competition, maintenance costs and entertainment taxes, said Ricketts. Only the New York Yankees face a higher entertainment tax, though that team plays in a publicly supported stadium, he said.
"These are all problems that need to be addressed," Ricketts said.
In March, Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens made a bid to snatch up the Cubs and move the team to the northwest suburb. He told CSNChicago.com that he'd give the Cubs 25 acres to build a Wrigley Field replica.
Cubs spokesman Julian Green responded that the Cubs intended to stay in Chicago and reach an agreement with the city.
Meanwhile, de facto rooftop owners spokeswoman Beth Murphy of Murphy's Bleachers said her group still has not sat down with the Cubs to examine the real impact of the signs — the renderings of the proposed video screen inside the stadium don't show the whole story, she said.
The team proposed moving the left and right field bleachers back in hopes of minimizing impact on rooftop views. But the screen "looked big" and seemed to block out parts of the neighborhood, she said. A lot of work still needs to be done with the team, she said.
"It's hard to qualify what minimal means to our customers," she said.
Ricketts said he plans to meet with the rooftop owners in the next few days to discuss the issue. Murphy said they were confident in the contracts the team and the rooftop owners signed in 2004 that gave the Cubs 17 percent of rooftop revenue in exchange for unobstructed views.
Murphy would not comment on whether she thinks Ricketts' threat to leave is real, but she said part of the reason Wrigley Field is the state's third-largest tourist attraction is because of the neighborhood's appeal.
"A ballpark in a parking lot doesn't have appeal," she said, referring to Rosemont.
The team plans to submit its proposal, which includes new signage and development, including a hotel, to the city Wednesday to begin the process of getting city approval.
Though Ricketts emphasized that signage is a main focus, he said the team does not want to lower its requests for other changes that have also raised community concerns. The Cubs still want to boost the number of night games from 30 to at least 40. The family does not want to lower the height of a 91-foot hotel it has planned at Clark and Addision streets.
But Ricketts said the team would still hear out the neighbors.
"We have the utmost respect for the public process," he said.
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. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the team's day-to-day operations.
Quinn Ford contributed reporting.