Wrigley finance proposal has struck out

Cubs need to find different plan for park renovation

The Cubs’ plan to use 35 years’ worth of amusement-tax growth to finance a $200 million renovation of Wrigley Field — and back-stop the bonds with a 2 percent hotel tax — is dead, sources said Wednesday.

The setback for a plan the Cubs had hoped to ram through the state Legislature’s fall veto session has sent team officials back to the drawing board to search for alternatives that might include creating a tax-increment-financing (TIF) district around Wrigley.

Another possibility is to broaden the boundaries of a 1 percent tax on downtown restaurant meals used to finance McCormick Place. That tax currently extends as far north as Diversey.

Gene Saffold, the city’s chief financial officer, acknowledged Wednesday that both ideas are on the table to salvage an 11th-hour deal that laid an egg in Springfield.

”I’m still looking at it … to see if you can take the current plan and build something off of it that might make more sense,” Saffold said.

Mayor Daley has said he doesn’t want to saddle his successor with a deal requiring Chicago taxpayers to forfeit 35 years’ worth of amusement-tax growth needed to bankroll city services and prevents the city from raising the amusement tax until the stadium project is paid off.

Despite those reservations, the amusement-tax concept still might survive.

The non-starter is using the hotel tax as a backstop — once bonds used to finance Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field are paid off — in the event amusement-tax growth falls short.

”Given the issues we’ve had with the decline in hotel taxes … that’s not an attractive option,” Saffold said.

John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), added, ”Bond counsel has had technical issues with the financing of the backup plan. … If that issue can be resolved in the coming weeks, it could be called in January. If not, it will be revisited as we head into the new session.”

Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, said the Ricketts family has held ”countless meetings” with elected officials to find ”a plan that works for everyone.”

”The key is to save Wrigley and create thousands of jobs in a public-private partnership. … It’s just a matter of coming up with the exact plan,” he said.

Another source said legislative leaders have told the Cubs to ”come back with a plan with a different backup that does not include the hotel tax. … It may involve a combination of things,” including a historic preservation tax credit.

Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he’s willing to at least consider the idea of expanding the boundaries of the downtown restaurant district.



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