August 1, 2014
The Cubs’ $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it is poised for final City Council approval Wednesday — paving the way for five years of construction to begin this fall — after a compromise hammered out by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the bottom of the 9th inning.
After yet another meeting with local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Emanuel announced Tuesday that a controversial pedestrian bridge over Clark Street would be “deferred indefinitely” and that there would be “further discussion” on the location of a hotel entrance that Tunney wants moved off residential Patterson Avenue.
Emanuel, Tunney and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts have also agreed that “only the two outfield signs” already approved — a video scoreboard in left field and a see-through sign in right — will be authorized for the 10 years remaining on the Cubs’ revenue-sharing agreement with rooftop club owners.
With those assurances and the guarantee that negotiations would continue, the City Council’s Zoning Committee approved the $500 million plan.
“I am pleased that the Cubs and rooftop club owners are having serious discussions to resolve their remaining issues for the duration of their current agreement and I encourage the parties to complete their negotiation,” the mayor said.
“Ald. Tunney and I also agree that there must be public input regarding any future revisions to Sheffield Avenue before plans would be approved.”
During Tuesday’s Zoning Committee meeting, a colleague asked Tunney how long the bridge would remain on the shelf.
“The community has protection...and the mayor’s commitment that…this motion will be deferred indefinitely about the bridge over Clark Street. That is for a very, very long time,” said Tunney, who was applauded by his colleagues for his political fortitude.
“Nothing is forever. [But] we worked hard to make sure that, if anything comes back, it has to come through our City Council...These were the points I thought were most important to our community in these last hours.”
In exchange for nixing the bridge, which has become a focal point for community anger, the Cubs also want the right to build an arch over Clark Street bearing advertising sold by the team, sources said.
To further minimize the impact on rooftop views, the Cubs are exploring the possibility of building the 650-square-foot see-through sign in right field behind a deck that would hover over Sheffield Avenue.
That would require the right-field wall to be extended outward at least twice as much as previously planned — taking out a lane of traffic, instead of just a sidewalk.
Since the sign would be closer to the rooftops and lower, it would not block any of their bird’s-eye views.
In exchange, the Cubs want the rooftops to drop their threat of a lawsuit that could tie up the entire project.
The plan is controversial because it would literally create an overhang over Sheffield that would extend from one side of the street to the other. Wrigleyville residents, who have already complained about giving up a lane of parking on Waveland and a sidewalk on Sheffield, will not be happy about that.
That’s apparently why Emanuel’s statement referred to the need for additional public input. The city must also determine how much the Cubs will compensate Chicago taxpayers for the taking of public streets and sidewalks and for the air rights above a city street.
“We think there are alternatives we can explore with our rooftop colleagues and with the neighborhood that can bring it to a resolution that we all can agree on and that will be a win for everyone. That’s what we’re hoping to do,” said Cubs Vice-President and General Counsel Mike Lufrano.
The full council is expected to sign off on the Wrigley deal on Wednesday without the floor fight that Tunney once threatened and was prepared to wage.
That would pave the way for the Cubs to start construction as soon as the regular season ends.
The 9th-inning changes hammered out by Emanuel are in addition to a string of earlier concessions aimed at appeasing Tunney.
If the Wrigleyville alderman keeps this up, he’ll have more wins than the Cubs — both on and off the field.
“We’ve achieved many of the goals and victories through this very, very rigorous process,” the alderman said Tuesday.
“What we are trying to do is to obviously give the Cubs the resources to win a World Series, right? Yes. But also the fact that it is such a residential community bounded by homes and apartments literally within a stone’s throw of some of this development. That’s been the more difficult challenge.”
Prior to the final vote, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) questioned the Cubs’ decision to continue last week’s weather-delayed Pearl Jam concert until 2:30 a.m. — on the eve of a pivotal City Council showdown. He urged the Cubs to pay more attention to the community’s needs.
“It’s not all about making money,” Fioretti said.
The issue of compensation for city streets, sidewalks and air rights is a sensitive one, given Ricketts’ decision to abandon his quest for a public subsidy and the history of land around Wrigley. Years ago, the Cubs paid the city $2.1 million to purchase land adjacent to Wrigley that was once a continuation of Seminary Avenue.
The Cubs had used the land for decades as a players parking lot. The arrangement continued until the Chicago Sun-Times reported that century-old documents showed Chicago taxpayers owned the land and that the Tribune Co. bought it for $150,000, shortly after purchasing the Cubs in 1982, from a railroad that didn’t have the right to sell it.
In 2006, the Cubs agreed to extend the outfield walls 8 feet onto the sidewalks along Waveland and Sheffield to eliminate the need for sidewalk columns to support a 1,790-seat bleacher expansion. Taxpayers got $900,000 in compensation for the air rights.