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City Council approves Wrigley Field deal with no debate

Updated: June 5, 2013 4:08PM

The Cubs finally got to first base Wednesday in the quest to generate the revenue the team needs to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley Field without a public subsidy.

Without any debate, the City Council gave the Cubs the go-ahead to play up to 46 night games per season, start six Friday afternoon games at 3:05 p.m. and stage four concerts.

Neither the Cubs nor local residents were satisfied. That’s no surprise to local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who’s been walking a political tightrope between the two sides.

“Contrary to what’s happening in Springfield and in Washington, you have to make compromises. ... We have to give clear support for the franchise to invest for another hundred years in Lake View — not in Rosemont and not in Cicero, either,” Tunney said this week.

Tunney has called the deal a “generous extension of good will” and a “big win” for the Cubs. The team disagrees because of four provisions, they claim, will tie the Cubs’ hands and, potentially cost them money.

They would require the Cubs to foot the bill for security and sanitation costs tied to more than 40 night games per season and forfeit a night game after any season that includes more than four “non-baseball events,” including concerts or college football games.

The Cubs were equally unhappy with the mayor’s decision to cap the number of Saturday night games at two per season and give the city “unprecedented” control over when rained-out games are rescheduled.

“If we’re successful on the field and chosen to play additional games on national television, we would need to choose between violating Major League Baseball rules or violating city ordinance,” Mike Lufrano, senior vice president of community affairs for the Cubs, told aldermen earlier this week.

“There are those who will say this ordinance goes far enough and we don’t need to push any further. ... But it needs to be a document that’s going to guide us for the future.”

Although the Cubs are pushing for further changes to the night game ordinance to untie their hands, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’s not inclined to make them.

“When you buy a company and you had 30 nights and you go to 40, that’s clearly an increase. There are six additional games that are now at 3:05 p.m. and four opportunities to do other alternative evening events, like concerts and football games,” he said.

“It may not be exactly what you want, but that’s what an honest compromise is. And we’re gonna continue to make progress for them on a whole host of other issues of implementing the framework” agreement.

The Cubs are not the only ones unhappy.

So are Lake View residents, who argue that allowing the Cubs to stage up to 56 “night events” at Wrigley “places too much of a burden” on congested Lake View and “materially decreases the quality of life” for area residents. They raised many of the same arguments that peppered the epic battle over installation of lights at Wrigley.

“I don’t want more night games. I don’t want more people in my yard. I don’t want more traffic in my alley. I want to be able to get home at night to see my family. Last Wednesday night, it took 50 minutes to get from Lake Shore [Drive] to my house. It’s only 17 blocks,” said Mark Church, who lives just a few doors from Wrigley.

“Before you make these changes, look at how it affects people who live closest to the ballpark. ... Having a [Cubs] website asking Cubs fans, `Do you think it would be better to have more night games’ is like asking kids at Great America, `Would you like more rollercoasters?’ “

Jim Spencer, who lives within what he called the “red zone” within three blocks of Wrigley, said he and his neighbors are “shocked” that Emanuel has signed off on up to 56 “night events” at Wrigley.

“My neighbors and I are concerned about our quality of life being frittered away. ... We gave in in 1988 [when lights were installed]. We gave in in 2004 and we’re gonna give even more.”

Will DeMille, president of the Lake View Citizens Council, reiterated some of the points he made in a May 29 letter to Emanuel that triggered some of the last-minute tweaks.

“As a fan, many people like 3:05 p.m. starts. As a residents, it’s gonna create chaos,” he said.

The ordinance approved Wednesday will raise the 30-game ceiling on the number of night games to 40 next season, but the Cubs would schedule just 35 of those dates. The other five would be held in reserve for night games dictated by Major League Baseball or its national TV contract.

If MLB dictates more than five night games a season, Emanuel’s plan calls for the City Council — or the corporation counsel if time is too short — to authorize up to six more night games without “counting” those games against the 40-game ceiling. Playoff games, rescheduled games or the All-Star Game would not count, either.

All of that is in addition to four concerts per season and six 3:05 p.m. starts on Friday afternoons, starting this season.

In mid-April, Emanuel and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts agreed on a “framework” that would pave the way for the Cubs to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley and the land around it.

It includes a 6,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field, an 800-square-foot see-through sign in right field, up to 46 night games, street fairs on weekend game days and signage all over a new hotel and open-air plaza.

The night game ordinance is the first piece of the puzzle. But it won’t be the most contentious.

In a May 29 letter to the mayor, the LVCC’s DeMille said he is “concerned” that the planned development process has, so far, “moved forward without sufficient public input and consent.”

He added, “There are numerous and significant concerns with the development outside of the ballpark, including the amount and type of signage [and] the height and entrance of the hotel. Each component of the planned development needs to have a distinct review and feedback process.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green countered that the team has attended “well over 30 community meetings” since January to discuss the plan and receive feedback.

Still, the LVCC letter includes a veiled warning to Emanuel.

“Our Lake View community of 100,000 strong has supported past administrations that respected and represented our residential community,” the letter states.

“We trust when the many ... issues now on the table are brought to finality, we will be able to continue to work with and receive the support of your office. We also trust that you will support the Lake View community throughout the planned development process and listen to the residents [who] will be greatly affected by the proposals.”

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