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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Allows Wrigley Field Rehab to Continue

CHICAGO (CN) - A federal judge refused to halt a $500 million renovation of the Chicago Cub's stadium, but will expedite a hearing on whether the project illegally blocks the views of neighboring property owners.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall was a blow to the owners of rooftop properties adjacent to Wrigley Field, who sued the Cub's owners in Federal Court to prevent a Jumbotron from obstructing their pastoral view of the historic ballpark.

The Cubs launched a $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field, but the rooftop owners of clubs overlooking the stadium are alarmed that the plan will ruin their business.

These owners entered a contract with the team in 2004, exchanging 17 percent of the rooftops' gross revenue for a license to sell tickets to view Cubs games. This contract does not expire until 2023.

"Rooftop people" have long watched Cubs games from apartment buildings and rooftop bars beyond the outfield walls, across Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, where some home-run balls end up.

In addition, owners allege that the Cubs bought neighboring businesses at a fraction of the fair market value due to the impending construction changes, then modified the outfield sign plan to restore the views of the rooftops now owned by the team.

But U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall declined to grant the rooftop owners a temporary restraining order against the erection of the Jumbotrons and billboards Thursday.

She said the owners had not demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm between now and a preliminary injunction hearing.

"The Cubs manufacture live baseball games and are taking over the distribution of their own product. This type of vertical integration is 'not unlawful or even [a] suspect category under the antitrust laws,'" Kendell said. "At this stage, the Rooftops have not demonstrated anything more than the vague possibility that they will be injured by the Cubs' actions. This is insufficient."

The judge noted that the Cubs received approval of their plans from the Chicago Landmarks Commission.

Kendell also promised that she will expedite the preliminary injunction hearing process, so that the court will reach its final decision within six weeks - before baseball season begins.

The owners claim that now is the prime time to sell tickets for the upcoming season, and that they will not be able to sell seats if they cannot promise a view of the field.

But, "that is not the same as saying that without that stream of income over the next few weeks, the company will not be able to survive," Kendell said, and the owners may recover lost revenue through monetary damages.

On the other hand, a restraining order would cause significant hardship to the team, as the stadium would remain under construction on Opening Day, April 5.

"A TRO would require the Cubs to refund tickets, forego other income, and could cause reputational harm. On balance, the events leading up to this motion and the effects they have had or will have do not warrant a TRO and the public interest does not dictate otherwise," the opinion concluded.

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