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City Council finally OKs Cubs’ plan for Wrigley Field

Artist rendering proposed renovations Wrigley Field with farmers market plaza. | Courtesy Wrigley Field Development

Artist rendering of proposed renovations at Wrigley Field with farmers market on the plaza. | Courtesy, Wrigley Field Development

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Updated: August 26, 2013 4:09PM

With a warning from local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) to live up to their many promises, the Cubs got the go-ahead Wednesday to rebuild 99-year-old Wrigley Field and develop the land around it after years of political strikeouts.

The City Council unanimously approved the $500 million development — primarily bankrolled by a video scoreboard in left field and a see-through sign in right — paving the way for the five-year construction project to begin as soon as the regular season ends.

“The balance that I’ve been trying to negotiate has been exhilarating, upsetting, exciting, exasperating . . . I care too much and I know too much about my community,” said Tunney, who drove a hard bargain on behalf of his constituents and small businesses.

“Just make sure the Cubs do what they say they’re gonna do. No more head fakes, because if they do a head fake,” the City Council and the mayor must and will hold the team accountable, he said.

Tunney had threatened a floor fight if his demands weren’t met. He spent weeks lobbying his City Council colleagues to preserve aldermanic privilege, the long-standing tradition of deferring to the local aldermen on zoning and development issues.

On Wednesday, Tunney said he wasn’t looking for a “civil war” with the Cubs. But the team had better honor its commitments to local residents if they want to avoid one.

“What is the adage? You have to be a good neighbor. Otherwise, I’ll be up your butt every day” with the help of the mayor and City Council, Tunney said.

“If you need my help, I will be there for you because you know you will be there for me.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who alternately pressured and emboldened Tunney, praised the alderman as a “tireless advocate” who fought for and won “44 changes” on behalf of his constituents.

“I happen to think we struck the perfect balance. . . . We did exactly right by balancing those interests,” he said.

The mayor underscored the point he wants all Chicago taxpayers to remember: “There’s not one single taxpayer dollar going to back this up. It took a while for that to sink in and for people to accept it.”

After the unanimous vote he thought might never come, Ricketts issued a statement thanking Emanuel, Tunney and the City Council for giving him the flexibility he needs to renovate Wrigley without a public subsidy.

But, he made it clear that difficult negotiations remain between the Cubs and rooftop club owners before the jackhammers begin.

“We look forward to beginning construction on our $500 million plan, but before we do, we must resolve once and for all the threatof litigation and the enforcement of existing rooftop ordinances and long-term certainty over control of our outfield. We also look forward to discussing with Ald. Tunney potential alternatives to the Clark Street bridge and the hotel portico,” Ricketts was quoted as saying.

Although Wednesday’s vote gives Ricketts the go-ahead to begin construction in late September, sources described the Cubs chairman as “adamant” about resolving outstanding rooftop issues “before ordering steel and shovels.”

The Cubs “only agreed to a ten-year moratorium on additional outfield signs” on the condition that the rooftops drop their threat of a lawsuit and the city “strictly enforce existing rooftop ordinances.”

The Ricketts family was also miffed by what they viewed as Tunney’s “bizarre comments” on the Council floor — particularly the alderman’s claim that the Cubs “are supposed to be a catalyst for the other businesses, not try to snuff them out.”

If the Cubs and rooftops can settle their differences, Emanuel will be able to chalk up a huge economic development “win” that will create 2,100 jobs and generate $50 million in state and federal tax revenue.

It was a hard-fought victory.

Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, Tom Ricketts was still hoping to use 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to help finance a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

After months in Emanuel’s doghouse, Ricketts abruptly ended his multi-year quest for a public subsidy.

He offered to go it alone — and build a $200 million hotel development on the McDonald’s property he purchased across the street from the stadium — provided the city lift restrictions on outfield signs and night games and opens Sheffield for street fairs on game days.

The five-year project includes a top-to-bottom makeover of the vintage ballpark that will begin with spacious new clubhouses and training facilities and include new concourses, washrooms, concessions and restoration of Wrigley’s historic exterior.

It includes: a 175-room hotel with a 40,000-square-foot health club, 74 parking spaces, advertising on two sides and a crown rising 117 feet above ground; a six-story office building with advertising on the south and west faces and a clock tower rising to a height of 117 feet; an open-air plaza with seven ad-bearing steel towers and a four-screen digital advertising board that would be turned off between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and a pedestrian bridge connecting the hotel and plaza.

There would be 35,000 square feet of ads around the hotel, plaza and Captain Morgan Club.

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