Cubs hope for sale by April

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs hope to have a new owner by Opening Day.

It's an optimistic timeframe, because the sale of the storied NL franchise still must be approved by major league owners. But club chairman Crane Kenney said Wednesday he hopes commissioner Bud Selig will help speed the process.

"I think if we could get some assistance with the commissioner, there's a vetting with the ownership committee, and then there would be a full vetting with the ownership groups," Kenney said as he arrived for a meeting of major league owners at a mountainside resort. "But I think everyone wants this thing to come to a conclusion, including the commissioner. So if we can get a little assistance there, we can maybe get there by April."

The Cubs' sale is not on the agenda at this week's owners meeting. A potential buyer would have to be approved by the ownership committee, and then the proposed sale would go to a vote of all owners.

"We're anxious both to have the season started and have a new owner in place and move forward with some of the things that have been idling, I would say, in the last year," including the development of a parcel near Wrigley Field, Kenney said.

Tribune Co. announced on Opening Day 2007 that, besides accepting a buyout offer from real estate mogul Sam Zell, it was selling the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Since then, Tribune has moved slowly in soliciting bids and considering the potential buyers in a sale that could net $1 billion.

By last June, there were still nine approved bidders on the list, and in August, Zell announced the field had been narrowed to five. At least three would-be buyers have submitted second-round bids to Tribune.

They have been identified in media reports as Tom Ricketts, a Chicago financier, member of the founding family of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., and chief executive of InCapital LLC; Hersch Klaff, who owns a Chicago commercial real estate firm; and a partnership between two New Yorkers involved in private equity, Marc Utay of Clarion Capital and Leo Hindery Jr. of InterMedia Partners.

Kenney would not identify the buyers but said he thinks the Tribune will pick a winning bid in the next few weeks.

"That's really up to Tribune, but I know they're in the final stages," he said. "I think their goal would be to have someone negotiate final terms to a deal sometime before early February."

Tribune Co. kept the Cubs and Wrigley Field out of its bankruptcy filing. A sale outside of the bankruptcy process could help Tribune reap a higher price, analysts have said, which could ultimately benefit the creditors who were put on hold by Tribune's Chapter 11 filing in December. Still, it's not clear whether Tribune's more than 1,000 creditors would agree to leave such a prized asset outside the bankruptcy court's control.

Kenney said he hopes the sale won't be tied up in court.

"We've had such an open process," Kenney said. "It's been so long in the making, with originally 10 bidders. I don't know the courts, especially in this economy, will think they need to do sort of a market check to see if there is a higher bid than the one that results from the Tribune process.

"There's been enough bumps in this road," he said.

Kenney said that until the sale is finalized, the club might have to wait on a project that would "bring Wrigley into the next generation," Kenney said.

The project would include upgraded training facilities for players, amenities for fans and parking on a parcel near the ballpark.

"We've got a building we want to build west of the ballpark, but really the design and financing of that depends on the new owner, so for us to move forward without the new owner being identified is probably impossible," Kenney said.