The tense relationship between the Chicago Cubs and rooftop club owners beyond the Wrigley Field walls had turned particularly bitter by the end of 2014. The prospect of a new view-blocking video scoreboard seemed to ensure years of legal wrangling and public bickering.
But since then, in just over a year, anger has switched to acquiescence as some clubs lost their court fights and others sold their buildings to the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs.
This week, the Ricketts family — set on increasing its control of an economy that feeds off the team — acquired three rooftop businesses beyond the left-field bleachers. With nine of the 16 rooftop clubs, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and his family now control more than half of the iconic industry surrounding the 102-year-old stadium.
But the surprise, said Jim Spencer, a Lakeview resident for nearly 20 years who heads the East Lake View Neighbors, is that the deals hadn’t been done sooner.
“The Rickettses are the only ones who have any need for those buildings,” he said Wednesday. “The die was cast when they got the go-ahead to put up the scoreboard in right-field.”
On Tuesday, the family closed on purchasing the Beyond the Ivy buildings at 1010 W. Waveland Ave. and 1038 W. Waveland Ave., as well as 1048 W. Waveland Ave., where the Sky Lounge Rooftop had operated. Donal Barry Jr. and James Purcell, principals in BJB Properties, a real estate company with dozens of Chicago apartment buildings, were investors in the buildings for more than a decade.
The properties are not owned by the Cubs or the Ricketts family members themselves. Instead, they were purchased by Chicago-based Greystone Sheffield Holdings, which is controlled by the Ricketts family. Similar business structures were used by the Ricketts family to make rooftop purchases.
“The family continues to be interested in acquiring some of these buildings if there are owners who are interested in selling,” family spokesman Dennis Culloton said. “It’s going to be very helpful for fans. We’re going to be able to create a variety of rooftop experiences for fans to choose from.”
Barry said the driving factor was how the 20-year revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs — the family inherited it when it bought the team from Tribune Co. in 2009 — expires at the end of 2023.
“The rooftops are a smaller part of what we do,” Barry said. “It was time to move on and focus on other things.”
Sales prices were not shown on county records and the new and former owners declined to comment
The transactions reflect Tom Ricketts’ efforts to control not only the future of Wrigley but portions of the Wrigleyville area in Lakeview. The team is overseeing a $575 million transformation of its property in Lakeview, and Ricketts’ plans to increase business opportunities beyond the stadium include an open-air plaza, a nearby hotel and street fairs.
The Ricketts family has sued Down the Line, a rooftop club on Sheffield Avenue, in which it has been an investor since 2010, to buy the property outright. The suit alleges that the Ricketts family’s right to purchase was triggered when ownership was transferred to the trusts of James and Camelia Petrozzini, who both died in 2014.
Mark Schlenker, who owns Brixen Ivy rooftop, said he hopes the family keeps its rooftops open. He declined to comment on whether he would sell.
“Good for the Rickettses, good for the Cubs,” said Schlenker, an occasional critic of the family. “Hopefully they’ll continue the tradition of Wrigley Field having a wonderful rooftop experience.”
As with the family’s other rooftop buildings, Ricketts will farm out management to Wrigley Rooftops, the hospitality group owned by George Loukas, who owns popular bars in Wrigleyville and previously sold two of his rooftop buildings to Ricketts. He started the rooftop craze three decades ago, and still has one rooftop business atop The Sports Corner Bar and Grill.
The transactions — on the eve of the team’s annual Cubs Convention fan festival — continue to dampen the once-bitter feud between the Ricketts family and various owners of the surrounding rooftop businesses. The two sides sparred for years, and in court filings some club owners accused team executive Crane Kenney of making threats and using strong-arm tactics.
Two rooftop businesses last year filed a federal lawsuit as a last-ditch effort to upset the team’s renovation plans, but it was dismissed. Two video scoreboards and other advertising signs behind the bleachers have been erected.
Spencer said he and other residents have no choice except to be optimistic about the neighborhood’s new direction. He said the concerns residents have raised about development and construction related to the Cubs have been dismissed by the Emanuel administration as it signed off on the Ricketts family’s plans. He said turning points were when the city allowed Sheffield and Waveland avenues to lose traffic lanes and approved additional night events.
“I think we’ve resigned to what has happened and realized that there wasn’t much we could do about it before and there is not going to be much we can do about it in the future,” said Spencer, who works in real estate. “I hope in the end it will have a very positive impact on residents and resident property values, but we won’t know that until three or four years down and after this is all done.
“You’re not even going to recognize Wrigley Field when it’s done. The only thing you’re going to recognize about Wrigley Field is its address.”