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Cubs Tue Jan 28 2014

Cubs & Rooftops Heading Toward Arbitration

Cubs_200.pngLess than a week after negotiations between the Cubs and Wrigleyville Rooftop Association fell apart, the next domino has hit the floor. The team has filed for a permit from the city to construct the 650-square-foot advertising sign that will be attached to the outer wall of the stadium in right field. The permit will likely be granted since and ordinance regarding the signage has already received city council approval, but was held back by the Cubs while they discussed the situation with Rooftop owners.

"Rooftop owners believe a blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs," said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. "We have instructed our legal team to proceed accordingly."

The team's front office didn't do themselves any favors by taking shots at the Rooftops during the Cubs Convention a few weeks ago, calling the Rooftops a "$20 million drag" on business operations, and even comparing them to neighbors that watch your television through a window. Even if that's the team's belief, public statements with that tone cause people on the other side of the table to get defensive, and rightly so. It's petty name calling with microphone in front of your face.

Danny Ecker from Crain's Chicago Business is reporting that the two sides have a meeting scheduled for this week, but it remains to be seen if that will take place considering the events that have transpired in the last 48 hours.

If the Rooftops do pursue legal action, it will be in front of an arbitration panel, per their agreement with the team. That deal, which has been referred to by each side for it's wording on a number of occasions, hadn't been made public until yesterday when David Kaplan of provided key details straight from the contract, including his thoughts along with quotes from a few lawyers he had examine the document.

Among the provisions that Kaplan displays in his piece, the one I found to be key is section 6.6:

The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

I'm in no way a law expert, but the last line of that provision appears to be a killer for the Rooftops. The city council has approved all of the plans brought before them so far, including the signage in right field. And according to that last line, anything approved by government authorities "shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section."

The other sentence that doesn't appear to work in the rooftops favor is the first. The Cubs are not building windscreens or other 'barriers' in an explicit attempt to the block the views of the Rooftops. They're building signage inside the stadium to increase revenue. That line of text is to prevent the Cubs from doing what they did before the agreement was signed in 2004, and building screens to block the view from the Rooftops like the one shown here. Claiming that the sign is a "barrier to obstruct the views of the Rooftops" is difficult to prove.

The Cubs decision to file for the permits, lawsuit (or arbitration hearing) be damned, might be a sign that they're going to move on with the project and see where the court battle takes them. They have much deeper pockets than many of the rooftop owners, and can withstand a long court battle without going broke. Or it could just be a move on the chess board to push for an agreement with the Rooftops sooner rather than later. Either way, it's a smart maneuver for a project that is already a year behind schedule.

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Dutch101 / January 28, 2014 12:07 PM

I don't think you can quite say it's a "killer" for the rooftops. There'll be a lot of arguing about what is meant by "expansion", and whether adding a sign, rather than seats or space, qualifies as such. Also rough to speculate on one tiny passage pulled from a whole agreement. You may be right, but I'd caution against reading too much into one passage.

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