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ANALYSIS: Mayor may have to play hardball with Ald. Tom Tunney on Wrigley deal

Artist rendering Wrigley Field outfield signs renovations during dusk

Artist rendering of the Wrigley Field outfield signs and renovations during dusk

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Updated: August 2, 2013 6:53AM

For a guy with a cartoon-like reputation for brute-force politics, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure has been patient with Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) when it comes to the marathon debate over renovating Wrigley Field.

But there comes a time when debate on a $500 million private investment needs to end and the jackhammers begin.

That will likely require Emanuel to do what he has, so far, refused to do: play the heavy by riding herd over a local alderman.

Jim Houlihan is a member of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks that approved key elements of the Wrigley plan last week—minus the two outfield signs most pivotal to bankrolling it.

Houlihan said he understands why Emanuel has, so far, tread softly.

“Rahm would not want to repeat the situation that Rich had when he was dealing with the Children’s Museum,” Houlihan said, referring to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s now-reversed decision to ram through a new Children’s Museum in Grant Park over the objections of local Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

“The context makes it unique—and a new experience for Rahm, I’m sure--because this kind of local protocol is pretty amazing and unique to Chicago.”

A source close to the negotiations noted that Emanuel has been “pretty respectful” of Tunney, well aware that the alderman has “not been the easiest person to negotiate with” over the last two years.

“Tunney could have declared victory a dozen times, the penultimate moment being the April framework [agreement on Wrigley]. He could have gone back to his community and said, ‘The Cubs wanted unlimited signs. I held them to two. They wanted unlimited night games. I held them to 40 plus special events,’” the source said.

“The goal is not to burn a bridge with an alderman. You need a good relationship with the City Council. I don’t care how powerful you are. The mayor has tried to put it off as long as possible. But this is too close to potentially happening to let it get away. The problem with Tunney is he can’t stick with a deal.”

That was painfully evident last week.

The night before the Landmarks Commission meeting, Tunney sent the Cubs a letter demanding that the team: reduce the Jumbotron in left-field from 6,000-to-4,000 square feet; shrink a 1,000 square feet see-through sign in right to 600 square feet; scrap a pedestrian bridge over Clark Street connecting a Cubs’-built hotel to the team’s new office building; drop the hotel’s outdoor patio deck over Patterson Street and shift hotel “lobby activity” from Patterson to either Clark or Addison.

Once again, Emanuel held his fire. He ordered the Landmarks Commission to put off a vote on the two outfield signs to give Tunney two more weeks to negotiate a compromise.

The following day, Tunney threw the mayor and the Cubs another curve-ball by walking away from the framework agreement he and Emanuel had so painstakingly negotiated.

Testifying before the Landmarks Commission, he demanded that the Cubs scrap plans to expand the stadium’s footprint—taking out a lane of parking on Waveland and a sidewalk on Sheffield--to provide more interior space for concessions, concourses and sign caissons and minimize the impact of outfield signs on rooftop views.

City Hall sources said Emanuel was exasperated by Tunney’s reversal. It underscored a point now painfully clear: The aldermen once accused of fronting for rooftop club owners who are among his most reliable contributors has trouble making a deal, sticking to it and selling it to his constituents.

“Both sides have made changes and requests outside the framework. But politically, he complicated things for himself by doing it. He’s under a lot of pressure. It’s such a big deal. It’s so public. He’s feeling the stress,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

Still the Emanuel aide said, “This is not about the mayor dropping a hammer. He’s more concerned about staying on track. The framework didn’t say 4,000 or 6,000 [square feet for the Jumbotron]. There’s still compromise to be made on both sides. No one is gonna be 100 percent happy. That’s not how life works.”

As a former alderman who has felt the heat from her constituents, Landmarks Commission member Mary Ann Smith empathized with Tunney.

“I’m not troubled. I’m actually happy to see aldermen fighting to protect their neighborhoods and historic structures. It’s an awesome responsibility that aldermen have,” Smith said.

“The owners of the Cubs knew what they were buying when they bought a team and a location. I don’t think this project truly hangs on whether or not gigantic signs go up. It’s the greatest source of revenue and, who wouldn’t like a wonderful source of revenue? I’d like a wonderful source of revenue for my garden. But sometimes things don’t happen for good reasons.”

It’s not clear what the political end-game is for Tunney, particularly now that his flip-flop on moving the outfield walls makes it more difficult to save face.

Maybe he wants Emanuel to play the heavy so he can be the hero who fought the good fight for his constituents and small businesses. Maybe he’s pushing it as far as he can go before caving in the end.

That’s what happened in 2010, when the Cubs put up an illuminated Toyota sign in left field that obscured the view of a Horseshoe Casino sign on the rooftop of a building owned by Tom Gramatis.

Tunney initially argued that the see-through sign was “not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood or the spirit of the landmarks” designation, then agreed to it in exchange for a four-year moratorium on additional outfield signs that expires next year.

After Thursday’s Landmarks Commission meeting, Tunney denied blocking home plate.

“There is a planned development that includes …over 40,000 square feet of signage we would never give another development. So we are bending over backwards….trying to give them the return on their investment,” he said.

“But this is a residential community. Yes, for 100 days of baseball, it’s all Wrigley. But we have a quality of life. People who elect me to represent them—this is why.”

Asked whether he’s concerned about Emanuel riding herd over him, Tunney said, “The mayor and I talk almost every day and I think we’ll come to an agreement…Look at how far we’ve come….There’s a hundred moving parts here. We’re down to five issues…. I’m not worried about the Cubs moving. We have the best neighborhood and also the best market.

The mayor and I and the Cubs want to get this done, hopefully, by the end of summer.”

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