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Mayor pressures Cubs to start swinging on Wrigley construction after council votes

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pauses while answering questions after Wednesday's City Council meeting. | Fran Spielman~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pauses while answering questions after Wednesday's City Council meeting. | Fran Spielman~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 14, 2014 12:01PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday pressured the Cubs to start renovating Wrigley Field after delivering a punch list of concessions to tie up loose ends on the $500 million project.

“They need to get started — and I was clear and unambiguous with the ownership about that even prior to [Wednesday’s] City Council actions,” the mayor said.

“The city has lived up to everything they said they were going to do in a timely fashion….We’re holding up our side and I expect them and the other invested interests — meaning also the rooftops — to resolve their issues so the whole city can benefit.”

Local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) agreed that the “ideas every month” that have come from the billionaire family that owns the Cubs “exhausted the patience” of the City Council.

“I would emphasize that the Cubs need to start the work as soon as possible…They need to do the renovation to be at Wrigley Field, to be in Chicago and to be in a LakeView, which has been phenomenally supportive,” Tunney said.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has said repeatedly he won’t begin construction until rooftop club owners who share 17 percent of their revenues with the team agree not to sue to block two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project.

The dispute has come down to two rooftop owners whose Sheffield views would be impaired by the right field sign. The Cubs have explored the possibility of reducing the team’s 17 percent share or buying the rooftops out, to no avail, sources said.

“We agree with the mayor and we’re anxious to move forward. We appreciate the tremendous amount of energy from the city, Ald. Tunney and the community that it has taken to get us to this point. We want to get started and we’re looking forward to resolving the issues that remain so we can do so quickly,” said Cubs Vice-President and General Counsel Mike Lufrano.

No matter what happens with the rooftops, the Cubs are running out of reasons not to start construction. The City Council made sure of that Wednesday by taking a series of votes that:

◆ Vacate up to 25 feet of street and sidewalk on Waveland and Sheffield without any additional compensation to Chicago taxpayers beyond the $3.75 million over 10 years already promised for neighborhood improvements and the $1 million pledged to build a new park on School Street.

The expanded Wrigley footprint will accommodate wider aisles, more concessions, a larger Budweiser deck and giant caissons needed to support the two outfield signs. The Cubs are offering free parking in team lots on non-game days to residents whose 58 street spaces will be lost.

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

◆ Give the team 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 for up to 1,000 cars.

◆ Waive the requirement for City Council approval of individual signs inside and outside the ballpark already included in a “sign matrix” approved by the Plan Commission and the Commission on Historical Landmarks.

The only outstanding item on the Cubs’ wish-list is the stalled plan to allow the team to sell beer and wine from kiosks at an open-air plaza adjacent to a renovated Wrigley and allow fans with plastic cups to carry their drinks between the ballpark and the plaza.

Tunney has promised changes after community feedback on a “sports venue license” ordinance that, as currently written, would authorize year-round liquor sales — from 11 a.m. each day to up to 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends — on a plaza that would also feature live music.

Wrigleyville residents are concerned about loud music. They would prefer a quieter form of activity, such as farmer’s markets or a skating rink.


Twitter: @fspielman

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