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Proposed Wrigley Field renovations could send building owners through the roof

Fans watch from special seats through Wrigley Rooftops

Fans watch from special seats through Wrigley Rooftops overlooking the stadium and the neighborhood, too, as the Chicago Cubs take on the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois on April 17, 2010. Credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel

Jeff Gabbard watches the Cubs in person without actually entering Wrigley Field. Fans can select his vantage point from more than a dozen rooftop businesses beyond the ivy walls.

They pay $60 to $100 to watch the Cubs from 500 feet away because "you basically have an array of food choices, wine and beer, whatever you want," said Gabbard, of Chicago. "Barbecue sandwiches, really nice bratwurst, barbecue ribs." Not to mention nicer bathrooms.

The rooftops -- former residential buildings where occupants could view games just by looking out their windows -- became a cottage industry for landlords in the 1980s but now face an uncertain future under a proposed renovation of Wrigley that could obscure or block views from the rooftops.

Conversely, the rooftop businesses are standing in the way of improvements that owner Tom Ricketts wants to make to the 100-year-old ballpark.

Ricketts likened the rooftops to "your neighbor looking through your window watching your television" when he addressed a group at a Cubs convention during the winter.

A $500-million renovation of Wrigley, the team's website said, would include a "6,000-square-foot video board added in leftfield and a 1,000-square-foot sign in rightfield. Advertising is a tremendous source of revenue for all major-league teams and we remain committed to introducing signage in the ballpark that keeps with the historic traditions of Wrigley Field." Signage in Wrigley under the renovation could provide up to a reported $20 million annually for the Cubs.

The Chicago City Council has approved the renovation of the city landmark, but the Cubs reportedly are reluctant to implement it because they fear it would be delayed if the rooftop owners seek legal action.

A contract between the Cubs and the rooftop owners, which runs to 2024, guarantees the baseball team 17 percent of the gross revenues generated by the businesses. That amounts to an estimated $3 million to $4 million per season, according to Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association.

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