CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs don't have to stop construction on a Wrigley Field video board that will block game views of adjacent rooftop clubs in the urban neighborhood, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
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The ruling means both that the right-field sign could be operational soon and that the Cubs' $375 million renovation of the century-old ballpark — which the teams sees as central to its future success — remains on track.
Skybox on Sheffield and Lakeview Baseball Club requested the preliminary injunction until a wide-ranging lawsuit is resolved, saying allowing the sign to go up will kill their businesses. The rooftop owners say a 2004 revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs prevents the team from obstructing views. They hoped the judge would issue an order in their favor before the Cubs' first home game, this Sunday.
But in a 35-page opinion laden with baseball puns, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall wrote that the rooftops "have cried foul" but haven't demonstrated their businesses would, in fact, go under for good if the Cubs weren't stopped immediately from erecting the video board.
"Without these showings, the Court does not find that the Rooftops will suffer irreparable harm or that money damages would not make them whole," she wrote.
The Ricketts family, whose scion founded the online brokerage Ameritrade, has been sparring with rooftop owners since buying the Cubs in 2009. The Cubs say the signs and other stadium upgrades will help them field better teams — ones that could vie for the Cubs' first World Series in more than a century.
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The ongoing renovations also include a left-field Jumbotron and a half-dozen other signs. Other rooftop properties that did not push for a preliminary injunction on the video board are parties to other civil action.
In oral arguments over the preliminary injunction last week, one attorney for the rooftop owners, Thomas Lombardo, accused the Cubs of violating antitrust law, saying the team sought to manipulate ticket prices and to "bully" rooftop properties into selling out to the Cubs. He said the Cubs bought at least some stake in four of 16 rooftops and then altered plans to position signs in front of rooftops they don't own.
But Cubs attorney Daniel Laytin said that misrepresents the relationship of the team to the rooftops. It is not one of competitor to competitor, he said, but of producer to distributor — the Cubs being the producers of baseball games and the rooftops selling views of games. Antitrust laws don't apply in that kind of relationship, he said.
Earlier Thursday, in a case not directly related to the civil action, R. Marc Hamid, a Skybox on Sheffield co-owner, pleaded not guilty to charges of defrauding the Cubs and tax authorities out of $600,000. Hamid, 46, of Chicago, faces four mail fraud counts, each carrying a maximum 20-year prison term.
The Cubs are spending $375 million on renovating the ballpark and $200 million for a hotel and other developments. The Cubs say the projects will create more than 2,000 jobs and generate $1.2 billion in net new revenue to the local economy over 30 years.
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