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Wrigley Field could get more Cub night games and concerts

Wrigley Field as Cubs play Miami Marlins Tuesday July 17 2012 Chicago.  | Chandler West~Sun-Times

Wrigley Field as the Cubs play the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, in Chicago. | Chandler West~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 26, 2012 6:16AM

The Lake View Citizens Council is opening the door to more night games and concerts at Wrigley Field as part of stalled negotiations on a $300 million renovation of the 98-year-old stadium.

An agreement that expires in 2016 caps the number of night games at 30 per season. The Cubs routinely schedule just 27 night games to give networks televising Major League Baseball the flexibility to turn three Saturday or Sunday day games into prime-time broadcasts.

Now, the Lake View Citizens Council is offering to let the Cubs to schedule 30 night games and add three more if the networks choose to make a switch.

And instead of requiring City Council approval every time the Cubs want to stage a Wrigley concert, the neighborhood group is offering “four night events” each year, including weekends — and as many as six concerts, provided the Cubs forfeit one night game for each of the last two.

The offer to allow more night games and concerts in exchange for additional “neighborhood protections,” was outlined by William DeMille, vice-president of the Lake View Citizens Council, in a letter to local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).

The letter proposes that the Cubs contribute $75,000 for each of the four additional night time events — with a cap of $200,000 per season — to be spent on mutually-agreed upon “community projects,” including better Tow Zone signage.

Other demands include: development of a traffic and parking control plan for “non-baseball” events; maintaining at least a single traffic lane “in addition to the sidewalk” for pedestrians on the 3600 block of Sheffield and the 1000 block of Waveland adjacent to Wrigley; accommodations for drop-offs and loading by taxis, limousines and pedicabs; a warning on concert tickets and concert promotions that vehicles parked on neighborhood streets will be ticketed and towed with paper signs posted throughout the neighborhood at the Cubs’ expense.

In a follow-up interview, DeMille opened the door to even more than three additional night games.

“The Cubs would like significantly more than three. At this time, three is all people would be comfortable with. Some blocks prefer no increase. The fans would probably like significantly more. We wouldn’t rule out additional night games [beyond three]. It is unlikely we would support an unlimited number. But, the specific number would depend on efforts to control parking,” DeMille said.

Why is the Lake View Citizens Council even entertaining a long-term agreement when the current night game ordinance has four more years to run?

“We’ve been involved in discussions with the alderman’s office on each concert. Often, it’s a rushed, last-minute deal. Dates and artists are finalized at the last minute,” he said.

“Instead of having these discussions two or three times a year, we wanted to do a long-term agreement and recommend parameters of that agreement. We get to work with the traffic folks at the city to better plan for these events. On the flip side, that allows Cubs to better plan things and work with promoters we’d like to see in the neighborhood. A longer-term arrangement is in the best interest of everyone.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team is “encouraged by the community’s response …We look forward to working with, not only the community, but Ald. Tunney on any plan that allows additional night events at the ballpark.”

Pressed on how many more night games the team was seeking, Green said, “Our priority is preserving Wrigley Field and the economic engine that the ballpark is to the city and state. Night events are only part of that solution.”

Tunney would only say, “I’m willing to negotiate a comprehensive package that could include more night games” and concerts within a “reasoned limit.” He refused to say how many.

In 2004, the Cubs got the go-ahead to phase in 12 more night games — to a maximum of 30 per season through 2016 — after contentious negotiations that produced a host of concessions to solve sanitation, parking and congestion problems associated with night baseball.

Four years later, then-Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney raised the possibility of adding more night games to get the Cubs closer to the league average of 54 during failed negotiations aimed at persuading the state to buy and renovate Wrigley.

The Lake View Citizens Council slammed the door on the idea, arguing that 30 night games was “enough for this neighborhood.”

The Cubs came back with a request to lift the ban on Friday and Saturday night games to minimize player fatigue during the dog days of summer.

That idea also went nowhere.

Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in the “final stages” of negotiating a Wrigley renovation deal that included a $150 million variation of the financing scheme he once called a “non-starter”- forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth.

The mayor was also planning to relax Wrigley’s landmark status to allow the Cubs to wring as much as $150 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues out of the stadium.

The changes ranged from more outfield signage behind the Wrigley bleachers, possibly including a Jumbotron in right field, to street closings on Sheffield and Waveland every game day to make way for money-making street fairs that duplicate the festival atmosphere around Boston’s Fenway Park. More night games was not part of that discussion.

After publicly scolding the Ricketts family, Emanuel said he had made his point and would not allow the controversy to sabotage Wrigley negotiations.

No new talks have been held since then. There’s no rush until the Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session.

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