Wed, 11 Mar 2009 04:00
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
It looks like the Cubs’ April 13 home opener against the Colorado Rockies could be marked by another version of rooftop wars — complete with the perennial threat of visual obstructions to block a recalcitrant club owner’s birds-eye view of Wrigley Field.
The Cubs filed a breach of contract lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday seeking to prohibit Anthony Racky from operating the Lakeview Baseball Club he owns at 3633 N. Sheffield until Racky shares 17 percent of his 2008 profits with the team.
Racky has been withholding the 2008 payment to protest a Jumbotron that, he claims, blocked half his view during the NHL’s New Year’s Day Winter Classic.
The rooftop sold out for the game between the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. But, club attorney Paul Bauch has contended that fans who had trouble seeing the rink would have to be given a future discount or freebie and the Cubs should pay for it. He also wants the Cubs to promise there will no be future obstructions.
Until those conditions are met, Racky has said he intends to withhold the 2008 payment.
Now, the Cubs are trying to force his hand.
“We wish we didn’t have to do this. It’s unfortunate. But we try to treat all rooftops the same and unfortunately, he’s chosen not to pay for 2008,” said Mike Lufrano, vice-president of community relations for the Cubs.
“We can’t let one rooftop not pay. It wouldn’t be fair to the other rooftops — nor to us. We have to have payment for 2008, and he has to agree to abide by the same agreement as the other rooftops.”
Lufrano was asked whether the Cubs were prepared to put up decorative banners or some other form of obstruction to block Racky’s mid-block view if he hasn’t paid up by Opening Day.
“We hope it doesn’t come to that. We hope we’ll be able to resolve it,” he said.
Other sources said an obstruction is planned and that it would probably be “some sort of louvre, slant or blind” to block Racky’s mid-block view, but not interfere with the rooftops on either side of his.
Bauch could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit. Last month, he scoffed at the threat of an Opening Day obstruction.
“They’ve been threatening to do that for 20 years. They can’t because it would violate all the other agreements. And it only makes them look stupid,” he said then.
Asked at that time why Racky was the only one of 17 rooftop club owners to withhold payment as a result of the Jan. 1 obstruction, Bauch said, “We have a history of standing up to the Cubs. If this rooftop hadn’t stood up to the Cubs 20 years ago, there wouldn’t be any rooftops.”
Five years ago, the Cubs and the rooftops struck a deal after an acrimonious dispute that saw the team put up windscreens to obscure their views and file a copyright-infringement lawsuit designed to put the private clubs out of business.
Rooftop owners agreed to pay the Cubs 17 percent of their gross revenues for the next 20 years. In exchange, the Cubs agreed to market the rooftops and lower the compensation rate if views were adversely affected by a 2006 bleacher expansion.
Still, rooftop wars have become an almost annual rite of spring. Last year, the Cubs filed a lawsuit — and started testing decorative banners that block the view of Wrigley — to punish the owner of three rooftop clubs who was refusing to honor the 2004 agreement.
Tom Gramatis ultimately paid up, but only after the Cubs agreed to accept an undisclosed flat fee from his Ivy League Baseball Club to compensate for the bleacher expansion.