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Panel greenlights vacating Wrigley street for renovation

WavelAvenue across from Wrigley Field | Sun-Times files

Waveland Avenue across from Wrigley Field | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 11, 2013 12:29AM

Relying on only one appraisal paid for by the Cubs, a City Council committee agreed Tuesday to vacate up to 25 feet of street and sidewalk on Waveland and Sheffield to pave the way for the renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley Field.

Marous & Co. valued the land at $3.75 million and the air rights above it at $250,000. The city did not order its own appraisal.

Normally, the city authorizes two independent appraisals and splits the difference between the two.

“I’m quite taken aback that we did not have an appraiser….to make sure this is just and fair compensation for the city,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).

That’s not the only thing that raised eyebrows at Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.

Aldermen also questioned the Emanuel administration’s decision to require no additional compensation to Chicago taxpayers — beyond the $4.75 million commitment the Cubs have already made to Wrigleyville residents.

Instead of paying that amount into the city treasury as most developers do when public land is vacated for their projects, the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the team has agreed to contribute $3.75 million over 10 years to the so-called Cub Fund

created in 2003 to mitigate the impact of additional night games.

The Cub Fund is used for neighborhood infrastructure projects at the direction of the city and four aldermen whose wards surround Wrigley. The remaining $1 million will be used to build a park on School Street.

“This was brought to Council as something that was not necessarily a subsidized deal. This vacation is tantamount to a $4 million subsidy. Why aren’t the Cubs paying? Any other business would have to pay,” said West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley, replied, “You didn’t hear me say there was no public subsidy involved.”

He added, “This vacation ordinance is part of a very, much negotiated plan to keep the Cubs in Chicago…without major public subsidies. Almost every sports team in America has some lucrative package to either retain or to attract the kind of

neighborhood that…is one of the best in the country.”

The $500 million stadium renovation plan approved last summer calls for expanding the Wrigley footprint to give the Cubs the space to add concessions and put up giant caissons needed to support a video scoreboard in left field and a see-through sign in right field that will bankroll the project.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in October that the Cubs would not be required to compensate Chicago taxpayers for the use of public streets and sidewalks — beyond the promises they had already made to Wrigleyville residents.

The street vacation sets the stage for a series of votes at Wednesday’s City Council meeting to tie up loose ends on the Wrigley project by:

• Extending the Wrigley property line at the expense of 58 Sheffield parking spaces to accommodate wider aisles, more concessions and a larger Budweiser deck. The Cubs are offering free parking in team lots on non-game days to residents whose

street spaces will be lost.

• Authorizing the Cubs to put up an advertising-filled “branding arch” over Clark Street in lieu of a pedestrian bridge nixed at Tunney’s behest.

• Giving the Cubs the green-light to schedule 35 night games-per-season at Wrigley — and add eight more, including three Saturday nights, to accommodate national television — in exchange for added security and free remote parking.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has said repeatedly he won’t begin construction on his $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it until rooftop club owners agree not to sue to block two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project.

But after making a seemingly endless series of accommodations for the Cubs, Fioretti is running out of patience.

“It seems like all we do is push, push, push and get everything through,” Fioretti said Tuesday.

“People are scratching their heads and saying, when are they going to start the work?”

Cubs Vice-President and General Counsel Mike Lufrano refused to say when ground would be broken on the long-stalled project.

He would only say, “We’re anxious to get started. We hope that’ll happen very soon. We have a few pieces that we know are outstanding. We’re working on those. And we think we’re close.”

Pressed to characterize negotiations with the rooftops, Lufrano said, “Discussions continue. We’ve had some good talks. But we’re not there yet.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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