Battle between Cubs and rooftops heating up

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CHICAGO (AP) - During a concert at Wrigley Field last summer, Bruce Springsteen looked up at the fans packing the rooftops across the street and shouted: “Who’d you pay?”

The Boss isn’t the only one wondering about those rooftops these days.

The days of working stiffs lugging lawn chairs and coolers of beer onto the roof to catch a Chicago Cubs game are long gone, replaced by gleaming bleachers and sleek skyboxes that offer a bird’s eye view into Wrigley Field _ for a price.

These rooftops, 15 of them in all, have become a high-stakes battleground in the effort to turn baseball’s lovable losers into a consistent contender. The team wants to add big, new outfield signs as they spend $500 million to update the 99-year-old ballpark, second oldest in the majors.

The Cubs, however, have run into a snag of their own making: The team has a 20-year revenue-sharing agreement with the owners of those rooftops _ and the owners hate the idea of signs that might block the view. The contract doesn’t expire until 2023 and the fight could wind up in court.

“I want them to be successful and win the World Series, but do you have to block out the rooftops that created the aura of Wrigley Field (and) made Wrigley the darling of Major League Baseball?” asked George Loukas, an owner of three rooftop businesses.

This is not necessarily a case of a franchise valued by Forbes at $1 billion getting tough on mom and pop.

Many of the owners are wealthy. There are real estate executives, tavern owners, ticket brokers and even a rancher. Just three years ago, the Ricketts family _ yes, the family that now owns the Cubs _ invested in one of the rooftops so it could reopen.

Loukas, whose holdings include the famed Cubby Bear Lounge and dozens of other buildings, came to Wrigleyville in the 1970s. He and his brother bought an apartment building for a fraction of what it’s worth now and charged renters, including a young Tom Ricketts, less than $100 a month.

The rooftop properties are now worth millions, the surrounding neighborhood a far cry from its days of being known for thugs and prostitutes. Cook County records show the properties’ combined market value adds up to more than $60 million, and they are likely worth far more than that.

Under the contract, the rooftop owners pay the Cubs 17 percent of their gross annual revenue. Last season, according to the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, the rooftop owners paid the team $4 million, meaning they brought in $23.5 million.

If those numbers hold for the remaining decade of the contract, the Cubs will be paid $40 million out of nearly a quarter-billion dollars the rooftops take in.

The two sides have differed before, but this dispute is far more serious. The team is planning major improvements at Wrigley Field, including a massive new video board in left field and a smaller sign in right field. The goal would be to complete the whole thing over the next five years and the project is starting to wind its way before city committees for approval.

It sounds simple enough. But this is Chicago.

The rooftop owners don’t like the signs, fearing partial views will hurt business, and the left-field sign alone would be three times as large as the famed scoreboard above the center field bleachers. They have threatened to sue.

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