On December 31 I was putting the finishing touches on a story praising Mayor Daley for taking a strong stand against a state handout to the Cubs, while warning readers that his steadfastness was probably only temporary.
By January 3, when the story came out, Daley had already caved. “I have an open mind,” Daley told Fran Spielman of the Sun-Times. “I always have an open mind on an issue. And why not?”
Let me tell you why not: there is absolutely no public benefit whatsoever to this deal. Under the proposal being floated by Zell, the state — specifically, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority — would buy Wrigley Field for a nominal sum as low as $1, then undertake a revamp of the stadium, building new parking, concessions, seats, etc. (Already the Cubs have landed the city’s permission for additional seating and advertising — never mind the ballpark’s landmark status.)
It’s a great deal for Zell. By agreeing to fix up the ballpark, the state raises the value of the Cubs franchise, which is already valued at around $1 billion. And it’s a good deal for whoever buys the Cubs. The new owner would not only be off the hook for construction costs but would save millions by being exempt from property taxes.
As for public benefits, the deal’s backers say they would require the new owner to sign at least a 30-year lease with the state. Big deal. The Cubs aren’t going anywhere, with or without a state handout. Ownership would be stupid to: Wrigley Field is a cash cow. No matter how inept the team is — and the Cubs, famously, can be very inept — the seats sell because people love going to the “Friendly Confines.” They wouldn’t have the same allegiance to a new ballpark. Just ask the White Sox, who only sell out when they do well, and sometimes not even then.
In exchange for this “benefit,” we the taxpayers will lose at least $50 million in property taxes (and that is a very conservative estimate) over the next 30 years. And that’s so that one billionaire can make more money selling to another billionaire, who will then make more money running the team.
Now that Daley’s showing signs of giving in, the main hope for killing the deal falls to 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney, who says he’s reluctant to back a handout for Wrigley.
Stay strong, Tom.