Aldermen OK Break for Cubs, Businesses Struggling During Pandemic

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A proposal backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to give the Chicago Cubs a four-year break on a $250,000 city bill advanced Wednesday, along with a package designed to help businesses struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Under a 2013 agreement that gave the team’s owners, the Ricketts family, the go-ahead to renovate Wrigley Field as well as the area around the historic North Side ball park, the team is required to pay the city $250,000 annually from 2019 to 2023.

But the Cubs, who failed to make the playoffs this spring after a pandemic-shortened season, asked city officials to defer that payment because fans were not allowed inside the ballpark as part of efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Those restrictions also meant that a slate of summer concerts at Wrigley Field also had to be canceled, which meant few visitors to the Ricketts’-owned Hotel Zachary, restaurants and rooftops in Wrigleyville.

After the unanimous vote by the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection, Lightfoot said she backed the break because the Cubs are a business like any other and “suffered great hardship” this year.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green told the Chicago Sun-Times the team lost $100 million in 2020.

Green said the Cubs appreciated Lightfoot’s support of the deferral of the payment.

“We have donated several million dollars to cover the cost of neighborhood upgrades and repairs in Lakeview,” Green said in a statement. “Even with the deferment we will have donated another million dollars to the community by 2024 making good on our commitment to be a good neighbor.”

The measure, set to be approved Dec. 16 by the City Council, does not alter the $250,000 payments due to the city from the Cubs in 2021, 2022 and 2023, which is the final year of the agreement designed to ensure that the team picks up some of the cost of paving streets and maintaining city-owned infrastructure near the ballpark. 

The Cubs will owe $250,000 to the city in 2024 to make up the deferred payment, officials said.

In November, Wrigley Field was listed as a National Historic Landmark, which could trigger millions of dollars in historic preservation tax credits.

Aldermen also advanced a measure to extend approximately 1,000 sidewalk cafe permits, now set to expire Feb. 28, 2021, until June 1, at Lightfoot’s request. 

In addition, the 450 restaurants, bars and cafes now operating in private parking lots, on sidewalks or in streets closed to traffic could operate through the end of 2021, according to the proposal also set for a final vote on Dec. 16.

The measure also continues a 75% discount on the cost of sidewalk cafe permits and includes a provision that would extend the duration of business and vehicle licenses set to expire between March 15 and June 15 until July 15.

Rosa Escareno, the commissioner of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the package has the “potential to help save thousands of dollars for tens of thousands of businesses.”

Escareno said that as many of 20% of Chicago businesses could close permanently due to the pandemic — a figure Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) called frightening.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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