October 23, 2014
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks will meet Thursday to approve two massive outfield signs pivotal to renovating Wrigley Field without a public subsidy, but they’ll be smaller than the team had in mind.
Instead of building a 6,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field, the Cubs have settled for 4,500 square feet. The Jumbotron will be 95 feet wide, down from 100 feet, meaning five feet less of rooftop blockage. The back will be tailor-made to blend in with the 99-year-old stadium’s restored exterior.
Instead of putting up a 1,000-square-foot see-through sign in right field that might move or rotate, the team will get a static 650-square-foot see-through sign.
And while the team has held out the possibility of setting off fireworks to celebrate home runs — just as they do at U.S. Cellular Field — sources said City Hall will not authorize pyrotechnics at Wrigley.
Local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) had demanded that the Cubs reduce the Jumbotron to 4,000 square feet; shrink the see-through sign to 650 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.
He also had demanded that the Cubs scrap plans to extend the right- and left-field walls outward to provide more interior space for concessions and concourses and minimize the impact of outfield signs on rooftop views.
The Landmarks Commission overrode him last month on the enlarged stadium footprint. Tunney’s other demands will be dealt with by the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council’s Zoning Committee.
The sign compromise follows marathon negotiations between the Cubs and Tunney brokered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
It represents a middle ground that still leaves the Cubs with enough revenue to bankroll a $300 million renovation without a direct subsidy involving taxpayer dollars.
Tunney didn’t get all that he wanted, which is why rooftop club owners are still expected to oppose the outfield signs for fear they would block their bird’s-eye view of Wrigley and violate an agreement with 10 years left to run that requires them to share 17 percent of their revenues with the team.
But the imminent threat of a rooftop lawsuit appears to have subsided.
“The alderman fought hard, and he got a lot of wins here. He wanted the right field sign to be stationary. He was afraid it would be mobile. There will be no fireworks like Comiskey Park. He wanted to make sure the back of the video board would look nice,” said a source close the negotiations.
“The mayor’s been working with both sides trying to get each side’s points stressed and hit a landing spot that addresses everybody’s primary concern,” the source said. “No one is getting everything they want, but there are definite wins here for the alderman. And the Cubs will go forward with signs that help them fund the rehabilitation of the ballpark.”
Earlier this week, Emanuel emerged from what he called a “very good meeting” with Tunney to say they were “just a few feet away — and I mean literally just a few feet away — from a win-win situation.”
Emanuel had talked before about being in the “final stages” of a Wrigley deal, only to have marathon negotiations hit a snag. But this time, home plate really was in sight.
Last month, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved a master plan for 45,000 square feet of “new or existing” Wrigley signage, but withheld approval of the two biggies in the outfield.
The vote on those two signs was put off to give Tunney and the Cubs two more weeks to strike the deal that has now been reached.
Tunney’s ever-changing demands had fueled speculation that the mayor might need to play political hardball to deliver a $500 million private investment by the Ricketts family that would translate into thousands of jobs.
Emanuel tried to put that speculation to rest by defending Tunney, even though he clearly leaned on the alderman a bit to deliver the final product.
“The alderman has been a tireless advocate for a better traffic system, better safety system, a better investment in the community [by] the Cubs and a better traffic and parking [plan]. And he has been tireless about making sure that his community would also be a winner in this. Those investments would make them a winner,” Emanuel said. “I think there’s a way to upgrade Wrigley Field to the 21st century. And the Ricketts will also see that type of ability to do that in a way that is complementary to the entire stadium. I believe Thursday we will make progress in advancing both of those goals.”
Several legislative hurdles remain. The Wrigley project still must be approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council. But the two biggest roadblocks — those giant outfield signs — have now been cleared.