After months of public posturing and private arm-twisting, Chicago aldermen are poised to sign off today on a Cubs plan to remake Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood following last-minute tweaks to the $500 million project that brought on board a key alderman who had opposed it.
All sides will be able to claim some measure of victory.
Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney got the team to agree to remove for the time being a pedestrian bridge over Clark Street. Rooftop club owners who have threatened to sue if their lucrative views are blocked saw Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce a 10-year halt to new outfield signs beyond the two already planned. The Cubs win much of the revenue-generating advertising that owners have long coveted. And the mayor can boast of a huge stadium renovation project that doesn't rely on public financial support.
"No one walks away entirely happy," Tunney, 44th, said during a City Council Zoning Committee hearing. "Those of us in the political arena know that's pretty well close to a successful deal. So with the negotiations and discussions ... I can support this planned development with the protections for my neighborhood moving forward and a respectful relationship with the Cubs and the community and the city and our mayor."
But as has been the case since Emanuel, Cubs CEO Tom Ricketts and Tunney announced in April that they had the framework of an agreement in place, Tuesday's unanimous endorsement by the Zoning Committee came with some questions unanswered.
Chief among them is whether the Ricketts family and the rooftop owners can reach detente.
In an email released minutes before the committee was set to consider the plan, Emanuel said he was "pleased that the Cubs and rooftop club owners are having serious discussions to resolve their remaining issues for the duration of their current agreement and I encourage the parties to complete their negotiation."
Emanuel is siding with Tunney on the outfield signs issue, saying the outfield sign moratorium would last through 2023. That's when a 20-year agreement that has the rooftop owners pay a portion of their proceeds to the team in exchange for unobstructed views expires. While that removes a major concern of the club owners, the renovation deal does allow the Cubs to put up a 5,700-square-foot video board in left field and a 650-square-foot sign in right field that could obstruct some rooftops' views.
Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the rooftop owners, declined comment Tuesday on whether his clients will sue.
There's also the question of how long the Clark Street pedestrian bridge will be off the table. Tunney, who sees the bridge connecting the Ricketts hotel to the ballpark as a safety concern and a giveaway of public space for the private use of a small group, sought to make the case during testimony that the team will be hard-pressed to get it built soon. "This motion will be deferred indefinitely about the bridge over Clark Street. So that is for a very, very long time," Tunney said. "Nothing is forever."
A Cubs source said the organization has no timeline for bringing the bridge back to the city for consideration but indicated the team would expect "some kind of a trade" in exchange for permanently scratching the bridge off its wish list.
Cubs officials have floated the idea of building a deck in right field extending all the way to the east side of Sheffield Avenue, where fans could congregate during games and people could hold events when games aren't being played. That would allow the team to move the right field sign back far enough that people on rooftops on Sheffield would be able to see over it into the park, the source said.
Another possibility would be an archway over Clark on which the team could sell advertising, the source said.
The plan aldermen will consider Wednesday gives the Ricketts family a great deal of flexibility to roughly double the amount of advertising in the interior and exterior of Wrigley, as well as the go-ahead to build a 91-foot-tall hotel and office building while increasing night games and other events at the park.
The owners plan to spend $300 million for renovations to the historic ballpark and an additional $200 million on neighborhood development including the hotel at Clark and Addison streets.
Tunney has been trying to walk the line between rooftop owners and residents of the dense neighborhood who think the Cubs seek too much on the one side, and Emanuel on the other, who wants to see the development project get done.
Despite Tunney's ongoing complaints about the particulars of the plan, it cleared successive hurdles in the Landmarks Commission, Plan Commission and now the Zoning Committee with a handful of changes.
The right field and left field advertising signs were shrunk slightly to address the alderman's concerns about the views from rooftops and the impact on residents who live close to the park. The Cubs also agreed to move the hotel's entrance on residential Patterson Avenue closer to Clark Street and to defer a plan for an outdoor patio above the hotel entrance that Tunney worried was too close to residences.
Emanuel's statement Tuesday indicated "further discussion is necessary on the location of the entrance to the hotel."
Before the zoning panel hearing, Tunney huddled in a City Hall meeting room with city staff and representatives of Lakeview community organizations and rooftop owners. After the mayor announced the agreement but before the committee voted, Tunney said the changes assuaged his most serious concerns about the plan.
But Addison Street homeowner Jim Williams and other Wrigleyville residents testified that the Ricketts hotel and other parts of the plan will ruin their property values and hurt their quality of life.
"While I'm very happy the Rickettses get to make more money, this is the biggest investment I'll ever make, in my home, and I think it's being tarnished, and it's being devalued by the Ricketts property," said Williams, whose home is across the street from the hotel site. "And nothing's being done to help myself or my neighbors who have similar concerns."
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