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Wrigley Field sale talks hit wall again

Tribune Co. and a state agency are unable to craft a workable deal.

June 10, 2008|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — Negotiations between Tribune Co. and an Illinois state agency that wants to buy Wrigley Field have again broken down over how to finance the deal, officials from both sides said Monday.

The problem is devising a transaction that would not involve taxpayer money and thus could gain approval from city and state officials, said former Gov. Jim Thompson, executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.

Outside experts believe that a package that includes Wrigley Field, the second-oldest park in the major leagues, together with the Chicago Cubs could fetch as much as $1 billion for the cash-crunched media conglomerate, parent of the Los Angeles Times.

Tribune went private in December in an $8.2-billion buyout led by billionaire Sam Zell. The company is selling assets including the Cubs and its Newsday newspaper to tackle $13 billion in debt. About $1.85 billion of obligations mature by the end of 2009.

Tribune confirmed in a statement that the sides were unable to agree on a deal.

"As an employee-owned organization, Tribune has been clear and unwavering in its commitment to a transaction that is favorable to the public, to the company, and to the Cubs," the company said. "Unfortunately, ISFA's proposal did not meet this criteria and would, in fact, violate the policies of Major League Baseball."

The sports authority would resume negotiations with Tribune "or any new owner of the Cubs" at their request, Thompson said.

Zell first stated his intentions to sell the Cubs and Wrigley more than a year ago as part of his agreement to take control of the company and take it private.

Zell's decision to nix a recent $400-million proposal from the authority was first reported last month. The Chicago Sun-Times, citing unidentified sources, said Tribune executives had concluded that the agency's novel plan to raise financing without increasing taxes -- by selling equity seat rights at Wrigley -- could violate both the U.S. tax code and baseball rules.

Thompson said Monday that the sport authority's plan to acquire Wrigley Field included issuing taxable bonds paid for by lease revenues from the Cubs and naming rights.

"This would be done within the policies and rules of Major League Baseball. . . . This would cost Illinois taxpayers nothing," Thompson said.

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