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Cubs get nod to renovate Wrigley Field but without big outfield signs — for now

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) talks Cubs fan during break this past summer's Landmarks Commissimeeting. | Fran Spielman~Sun-Times Media

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) talks to a Cubs fan during a break at this past summer's Landmarks Commission meeting. | Fran Spielman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 30, 2013 8:25AM

The Cubs got the go-ahead Thursday to proceed with key elements of their plan to renovate Wrigley Field, but not the two most pivotal to pulling it off without a public subsidy: a 6,000-square foot video scoreboard in left-field and a 1,000-square foot see-through sign in right.

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 until July 11 in hopes that the Cubs and local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) can reach a compromise by then.

Tunney has demanded that the Cubs: reduce the jumbotron to 4,000-square feet; shrink the see-through sign to 600-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.

On Thursday, Tunney made compromise a bit more difficult by adding a sixth demand: 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.

Never mind that Tunney had agreed to the larger stadium footprint in the framework agreement hammered out in April by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“This means two things: the introduction of a public subsidy into the proposal and allowing for an increase in their interior scope, thereby facilitating more signage — bigger signs,” Tunney told the Landmarks Commission.

“For 265 days-a-year, this is a residential community and sidewalk width and coming up and down the street [is pivotal]…We are very concerned about the width of the sidewalk.”

Tunney later clarified his stand. He said he’s not totally opposed to moving the brick walls. He just doesn’t want to move them quite as much as the Cubs want.

His concerns were echoed by local residents and community leaders, who called the decision to let the Cubs take out a sidewalk on Sheffield and a traffic lane on Waveland without compensating Chicago taxpayers an “unprecedented” public subsidy for a project that claims to have none.

Despite those concerns, the commission authorized the Cubs to expand the stadium’s foot-print, build a new western entrance, remodel the dug-outs and build a new, two-story Captain Morgan Club on Addison with a new merchandise store and even more signs.

But the “elephant in the room,” as one Wrigleyville resident put it, remains the two outfield signs and Tunney’s demand that they be cut — almost in half.

“This is about signs you can see — especially the LED portion from a mile away,” Tunney said.

“I can verify that because I live a mile away and I can see the light standards. At 6,000-square feet, I’ll be able to watch the game from my apartment. That’s a quality of life issue for the entire neighborhood [all the way to] Lake Shore Drive.”

Landmarks Commission member Jim Houlihan says he, too, is concerned about the impact of outfield signs on the broader community — not just about whether the view from rooftop clubs overlooking Wrigley would be blocked or partially impaired.

The question now is, whether the Cubs are willing to shrink the massive outfield signs and, if not, whether Emanuel is prepared to side with the team against a local alderman determined to show he’s going to bat for his community.

Until now, Cubs spokesman Julian Green has argued that the team needs every square inch of new signage to bankroll the $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it without a public subsidy.

But after Thursday’s partial victory, Green struck a more conciliatory tone. He said the Cubs want “as much as we can get,” but he didn’t rule out smaller signs.

“We know this is a marathon. There are many more meetings we have to go through. We’ll continue to do that to, hopefully, get something that works for everyone,” he said.

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