December 13th, 2007

State looks to buy Wrigley

By Jim Kirk
Chicago Tribune

Historic park may be sold in separate deal from Cubs

City and state officials have had discussions with Cubs executives about possibly selling historic Wrigley Field to a state government entity that currently owns and operates the White Sox’s home, U.S. Cellular Field, sources close to the Cubs told the Tribune.

The talks with state and city officials centered on selling the 93-year-old facility to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government unit the Illinois General Assembly created in 1987 for the purpose of building new Comiskey Park, now U.S. Cellular Field.

There is no deal yet and there’s no guarantee a deal will be struck.

It is unclear how the state and ISFA would raise funds for such a purchase, which would fetch hundreds of millions of dollars if consummated. One possible way the state could underwrite a purchase, or pay for major renovations to the ballpark that any buyer would have to fund, would be to sell naming rights to the park, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions. These sources said that even if naming rights were sold, the park likely still would retain the name Wrigley Field as well.

White Sox executives sold naming rights to Comiskey Park in 2003 for 20 years at a price of $68 million, helping the White Sox and ISFA fund millions of dollars worth of renovations over the last several years.

Tribune Co., owner of this newspaper and the Cubs, is in the midst of trying to sell the Cubs as part of an $8.2 billion deal to go private in a transaction led by billionaire Sam Zell in conjunction with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The going-private deal is expected to be completed next week.

The bidding for the Cubs has been red hot, giving Tribune several choices on how best to sell the team and the assets connected to it, including the ballpark. With estimates of the team and stadium going for perhaps more than $1 billion, Tribune executives are seriously considering selling the team and stadium separately to maximize its payout.

A Tribune Co. spokesman said “We’re looking at everything with regard to Wrigley Field, the Cubs and Comcast SportsNet.”

Selling the ballpark separately to an entity like ISFA actually could help Tribune secure a better price overall, sources said. If a new owner were to pay top dollar for both the team and ballpark, the price tag for major renovations likely would suppress the overall bidding price, those sources say.

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