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Cubs owner Tom Ricketts buying Chicago USL team

This is a rendering of the planned soccer stadium at the Lincoln Yards development, provided by Sterling Bay, and the architect is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. (Courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)

Two years after bringing a long-awaited World Series to the North Side, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is ready to give soccer a try.

The baseball team owner and Chicago developer Sterling Bay said they are forming a joint venture to bring a United Soccer League expansion team to the planned Lincoln Yards commercial real estate development along the Chicago River.

Sterling Bay will develop and own the stadium, and will keep an ownership stake in the USL franchise it bought last year. Ricketts will be the team’s majority owner.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ricketts’ involvement brings credibility to the upstart soccer league as well as to Sterling Bay, which is established as a top real estate developer but does not have expertise running a sports franchise.

“We couldn’t be more excited to be working with the Ricketts family to bring this project to life,” Andy Gloor, Sterling Bay’s managing principal, said in a news release announcing the joint venture. “With their deep expertise in sports franchising, the … (Rickettses) are an ideal partner for us to collaborate with and energize Chicago sports fans with a new local team to rally around.”

The Ricketts family has owned the Cubs since 2009, and has invested in major renovations to Wrigley Field as well as developments near the ballpark, including a hotel and offices for the team.

“My family is very excited at the prospect of bringing professional USL soccer to Chicago at this terrific new development,” Ricketts said in the news release. “Sterling Bay is a tremendous partner and the USL has a great vision for meeting the demands of passionate fans and growing soccer’s fan base.”

The Tribune in October reported that Sterling Bay was proposing a stadium on the site, as part of its effort to bring Amazon or another large corporation to the mixed-use development as an office tenant.

In November, Sterling Bay confirmed plans to bring a USL team to an approximately 20,000-seat stadium that it said is likely to have a retractable roof.

The USL, based in Tampa, Fla., is considered a developmental league to the Chicago Fire’s Major League Soccer.

The USL’s existing and planned teams are in locations that range from big-league sports cities such as New York and Los Angeles to minor-league markets such as Fresno, Calif.; Charleston, S.C.; and Bethlehem, Pa.

“It speaks volumes about the growth of the USL when you continue to see interest and investment from proven sports business executives like Tom Ricketts,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said in the release. “Over the last several years, we have assembled one of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable ownership groups in professional sports, drawn by our focus on building a sustainable, stable and professional organization with significant room for future growth. We welcome Tom and the entire Ricketts family to the USL. They bring a proven record of success to the team, and combined with the excellent group at Sterling Bay, we look forward to their contributions to the future of professional soccer in Chicago.”

Sterling Bay also has said it wants to bring other sporting events, such as international soccer and college football games, and entertainment to the venue surrounded by densely populated neighborhoods.

Chicago’s USL team is expected to begin playing in 2021.

The stadium and training facility will be available to youth and professional athletes, and also will have community and cultural events, according to the news release.

The stadium is planned along the west side of the river.

Lincoln Yards, which stretches from Webster to North avenues, was one of five Chicago sites that Seattle-based Amazon visited in March as it looks to choose a home for its planned second headquarters, or HQ2. The Seattle-based online retailer says it will add as many as 50,000 highly paid employees in the North American city it chooses.The more than 70-acre site along Lincoln Park and Bucktown includes the former A. Finkl & Sons steel plant site and other previously industrial land.

Sterling Bay has made a name for itself in recent years by bringing high-profile office tenants to its Chicago developments, including McDonald’s headquarters and Google’s Midwest headquarters.

The firm this year has acquired two huge office properties, the two-tower Prudential Plaza complex along Millennium Park and Groupon’s sprawling headquarters building along the river at 600 W. Chicago Ave.

Twitter @Ryan_Ori




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