Will Wrigley Takeover by Illinois Help Enrich Billionaire Sam Zell?

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Illinois taxpayers may soon be asked to make real-estate billionaire Sam Zell even richer. As part of his takeover of the Chicago Tribune, Zell is trying to unload the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, which the Tribune Company currently owns. Details remain sketchy but involve the Illinois Sports Finance Authority (ISFA) issuing low-interest, tax-exempt bonds to purchase and rebuild the historic stadium. (The ISFA was specifically created to build and manage a new field for the Chicago White Sox.)

A public takeover of Wrigley Field would save a future Cubs owner millions in stadium repair costs. According to the Chicago Reader, leasing the stadium from the state would also save new owners an additional $50 million in property taxes over 30 years. By being able to offer these advantages, Zell could get a much better price for the Cubs.

Accounts vary, but Zell apparently approached Governor Rod Blagojevich (an ardent Cubs fan) with the idea of a state takeover. The Chicago Sun-Times reported recently that Mayor Richard Daley, after initially denouncing the takeover idea, is now “open” to it. Zell is a major Daley campaign contributor.

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