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City Plan Commission approves Wrigley Field revamp

Ald. Tom Tunney

Ald. Tom Tunney

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Updated: August 20, 2013 6:41AM

With a surprise about-face by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved the Cubs’ $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it.

Tunney’s acquiescence — after another round of concessions from the Cubs and a promise to “continue dialogue” about a pedestrian bridge over Clark Street — appears to avert a City Council floor fight over aldermanic privilege that would have been a bitter redux of the 2008 showdown over a Children’s Museum in Grant Park.

The City Council’s Zoning Committee and the full City Council are expected to approve the Wrigley development next week.

The alderman’s about-face came after he spent the morning button-holing colleagues to support him in upholding the long-standing tradition of deferring to the local alderman on zoning and planning issues.

Earlier this week, Tunney demanded that the Cubs: scrap the bridge; drop the hotel’s outdoor patio deck over Patterson Avenue; shift hotel “lobby activity” from Patterson to either Clark or Addison, and agree to a 10-year moratorium on stadium signage beyond the huge money-makers already approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks last week.

The hotel beer garden has now been “deferred.” The hotel entrance has been moved closer to Clark Street, but still on Patterson. And Tunney said Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised there will be “no additional outfield signs for many years to come.”

The pedestrian bridge remains. But, under hostile questioning from Plan Commission members, Cubs Vice-President Mike Lufrano said the team is “seriously considering” covering the open-air pedestrian bridge to ease Tunney’s concern about drunken fans tossing bottles and cans.

With those concessions, Tunney folded.

“Through months of negotiations and discussions, we now have arrived at the point where I have no objections to this project,” Tunney said.

Last week’s vote on outfield signs literally reduced Tunney to tears, defying the notion made famous by actor Tom Hanks in the movie, “A League of Their Own” that, “There is no crying in baseball.”

On Thursday, Tunney declared victory for himself and the Cubs.

“Our community has achieved many goals and victories through this process,” he said.

“The Cubs are an important and valued business stakeholder in my ward,” Tunney said. Lake View residents are proud they call our neighborhood home. We are one of the most dynamic, vibrant neighborhoods in the city and look forward to hosting a World Series.”

In a prepared statement issued Thursday, Emanuel said: “I’m pleased this next important step has been taken to help ensure the Cubs can modernize Wrigley Field and bring investments to Lake View that will benefit residents and Cubs fans alike. The framework is a win-win for all involved, including the taxpayers who are not being asked to subsidize the project.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green called Thursday’s vote, a “tremendous step forward” in the marathon battle to renovate 99-year-old Wrigley Field without a public subsidy.

“This has been a long time getting here. But today, we were able to hold hands with the city, the alderman . . . and the community . . .. We were glad to have his support,” Green said.

But, if Tunney is holding out hope for the Cubs to scrap the bridge, Green made it clear that won’t happen. It might be covered, but it stays, he said.

“There are a lot of bridges along Lake Shore Drive. There are bridges across town with another baseball team. And people are not throwing beer off these bridges,” he said.

The $500 million privately-financed development would only begin with a $300 million historic renovation of Wrigley Field.

The planned development also includes: a 91-foot-tall, 175-room hotel; a six-story office building with a 119-foot-high clock tower; an open-air plaza with seven ad-bearing steel towers and a four-screen digital advertising board turned off, only between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and a pedestrian bridge over Clark Street connecting the hotel and office building.

There would be 35,000-square-feet of advertising between the hotel, plaza and two-story Captain Morgan Club.

The Cubs’ presentation was made by architect Michael Toolis, the co-owner of VOA Associates who just happens to be the husband of Emanuel’s former chief-of-staff.

That only heightened the suspicions of local residents who smell a rat and may not be happy with Tunney’s about-face.

“Wrigleyville is being turned into Rickettsville — and it’s happening because rich folks and the mayor want to have their own way,” said Mike Merlo, son of former State Sen. Jack Merlo (D-Chicago), whose family has lived in Wrigleyville for 100 years.

On the night before he folded his tent, Tunney was telling colleagues and warning the Cubs that he had the 26 votes needed to block the project.

But that would have forced his colleagues to jeopardize a $500 million private investment that will generate 2,000 jobs and $50 million in state and local tax revenue. A floor fight, if Tunney won it, would also have dared the Cubs to at least entertain competing offers from Rosemont, Cicero and DuPage County.

Unless the alderman changes his mind again, it looks like all of those political risks have been avoided.

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