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Rooftops Go Down Swinging to the Cubs

Friday, February 20, 2015

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Construction will continue on the $375 million renovation of Chicago's Wrigley Field, despite plans to install large rooftop signs that may put neighboring establishments out of business, a federal judge ruled Thursday (Feb. 19).

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia M. Kendall rejected an emergency request by Right Field Rooftops LLC, Right Field Properties LLC, and Rooftop Acquisition LLC for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to halt the four-phase project, which began Sept. 29.

The decision allows renovation work on the 101-year-old stadium to continue for now and, likely, until the case goes to trial.

WrigleyFieldRooftops
@WrigleyRenovate via SI.com

The Rooftop venues across from Wrigley Field say they will go out of business if the team erects large new bleacher-section signs.

After a four-hour hearing on Wednesday, the judge ruled Thursday that the "vague possibility" of future harm to the businesses that are built on their views into the ballpark was not sufficient cause to issue a restraining order.

From the Rooftops

The Wrigley Field renovation will include seven new bleacher signs, including a 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and a 2,225-square-foot video board in right field. All of the signs are due to go up during the 2015 season.

The right-field sign, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, may block the views of the Lakeview Baseball Club and Skybox on Sheffield, two eating and drinking establishments across the street that signed 20-year contracts with the Cubs in 2004. (Interactive graphics by the Chicago Tribune show the designs and views at stake.)

The so-called "Rooftops" pay the Cubs 17 percent of their income in exchange for seats with views into Wrigley. The businesses also get to carry the Cubs' endorsement, and they engage in joint marketing.

LBC SkyboxOnSheffield
Lakeview Baseball Club (left); Skybox on Sheffield (right)

Patrons of the Lakeview Baseball Club (left) and Skybox on Sheffield (right) enjoy a better-than-bird's-eye view of the Cubs from their seats high across the street. The businesses pay 17 percent of their income to the team under a 20-year contract.

(As the two current businesses grapple with future obstructed views, a number of properties recently acquired by the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, would gain better views under the renovation plans, news report note.)

The Fine Print

The current legal dispute hinges on language in the 2004 revenue-sharing agreement between the team and the Rooftops. That contract prohibits the Cubs from erecting "windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops."

However, the contract exempts from that prohibition "any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities."

The Rooftops say the "barriers" ban clearly makes the new signs unlawful.

The Cubs say that the "expansion" exemption gives them an out.

WrigleyDemo
@WrigleyRenovate via SI.com

Demolition of Wrigley Field's bleacher section is well underway. Work on the four-phase, $375 million renovation of the 101-year-old ballpark began at the end of the 2014 season.

The Rooftops argue that the renovation project does not constitute an "expansion."

Dualing Motions

In their six-page motion for the temporary restraining order, the Rooftops contend that the Cubs control 93 percent of team ticket sales and are trying to control the rest by "attempting to destroy competitor Rooftop Businesses...."

The Rooftop businesses (12 in all) have 3,000 Wrigley seats.

Firing back in a 48-page answer, attorneys for the Cubs argue that the Rooftops waited too long to act. The expansion plans were announced years ago, and the Rooftops have known about the right-field sign for nearly two years, the team says.

During that time, the Cubs "purchased massive amounts of steel; demolished the existing bleachers; began construction; purchased the videoboard; and entered into contracts with sponsors for the sign plaintiffs say will block their views.

Meanwhile, the filing says, "Plaintiffs sat, watched, and did nothing while bulldozers razed the outfield across the street.

WrigleyRenovation
Chicago Cubs

A rendering shows the massive signage planned for Wrigley's renovated outfield. Businesses behind the signs are suing.

"Now, several months of construction later, plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction to stop the expansion in its tracks."

Public Interest

The team said the Rooftops had presented "absolutely no evidence they will forever go out of business during the 2015 baseball season, that customers not only will stop buying ticket to their facilities this season but also never return [emphasis in original]."

If and when the Rooftops win the case when it goes to trial, they can be compensated at that time for any "claimed injury," the Cubs add.

The team also contended that "the public will suffer" if Wrigley's renovation is delayed.

"The preservation of Wrigley Field is an undeniable public asset," the team argued.

"Without the right-field videoboard, the project would not go forward in its current, government-approved form. Plaintiffs should not be permitted to override the government-approval process they already lost."

   

Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Construction; Contracts; Design; Laws and litigation; Renovation; Stadiums/Sports Facilities

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