The Cubs earned a partial early victory for their ambitious Wrigley Field construction plan Thursday, getting a preliminary signoff to move back the outfield walls and make other changes to the aging ballpark.
But consideration of the most controversial aspect of the $300 million stadium renovation — two new giant signs in the outfield bleachers — was put off until next month as the team, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Tom Tunney keep negotiating over the size.
The Landmarks Commission vote on the outfield walls and other proposed updates, while just an early step in the long City Hall approval process, is an important indicator that it will succeed because Emanuel appoints the panel's members.
On Thursday the commission essentially voted on a promise by the Cubs that the team will request city permits that meet the agreed standards in the landmarked parts of Wrigley. If the panel also approves the big outfield signs, the entire proposal — including the hotel, an office building in the plaza next to Wrigley Field and other changes the Ricketts family wants to make in the surrounding neighborhood — then would go to the city Plan Commission.
If the Plan Commission gives approval, the project then would go to the City Council Zoning Committee for an up-or-down vote. From there, the project would head to the full City Council. The Ricketts family wants to start work after the regular season ends Sept. 29.
The first hurdle cleared came as the landmarks panel voted to let the Cubs push back the outfield walls onto the public right of way on Waveland and Sheffield avenues so the team can widen the inside concourse and create room for the proposed outfield signs. The Ricketts family has demanded that it not be required to pay for the use of the public way for that expansion, a facet of the deal that was part of the "framework" announced by the city and the team in April.
Tunney, 44th, objected, saying the move isn't needed and will create safety hazards by narrowing the sidewalks.
But the commissioners nonetheless recommended approval. They also looked favorably on a Cubs "master sign program" that said the team may eventually request up to a total of 45,000 square feet of advertising inside the park, excluding the two big proposed outfield signs. In addition, the package voted on Thursday includes plans to beautify the exterior of the stadium, build bullpens for pitchers warming up and enlarge the dugouts, among other aspects.
The commission did not vote on the proposal to build a massive video screen in left field and another advertising screen along the back of the bleachers in right field.
In a letter to the team this week, Tunney demanded that the video screen be no bigger than 4,000 square feet, rather than the 6,000 square feet the Cubs want. In right field, the Cubs requested a 1,000-square-foot ad board, but Tunney says he won't support if it's bigger than 650 square feet. Ricketts says he can't afford to pay for the stadium renovation and a $200 million nearby hotel without the full-size billboards bringing in advertising revenue in the park.
Parts of the Wrigleyville development plan proposed for outside the park, including a hotel at the corner of Clark and Addison streets and the pedestrian bridge over Clark to connect the hotel to Wrigley Field, will be considered by the Plan Commission and aldermen at later dates.
Tunney also opposes the bridge, as well as the team's plan to locate the entrance to the hotel and an outdoor patio above the entrance on Patterson Avenue, a residential street west of the park. He wants the entrance on Clark or Addison instead.
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