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Cubs won’t have to give taxpayers more after $4.75M for Wrigley renovation

Artist rendering Wrigley Field outfield signs renovations during dusk

Artist rendering of the Wrigley Field outfield signs and renovations during dusk

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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:11PM

The Cubs will not be required to compensate Chicago taxpayers — beyond the $4.75 million in commitments they’ve made to Wrigleyville residents — for the use of public streets and sidewalks needed to expand 99-year-old Wrigley Field, City Hall said Wednesday.

The $500 million plan approved by the City Council calls for the stadium’s right- and left-field walls to be extended outward by as much as 10 feet, taking out the sidewalk on Sheffield and a lane of traffic on Waveland.

Expanding the Wrigley footprint gives the Cubs the space they need to add concessions and put up giant caissons needed to support a video scoreboard in left field and a see-through sign in right that will bankroll the project.

In 2006, the Cubs agreed to extend the outfield walls eight 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 in addition to the Cubs’ commitments to security, sanitation and traffic control.

When the Chicago Sun-Times asked last spring how much the team would be charged for city land this time around, the Emanuel administration initially promised an appraisal to determine the appropriate level of compensation.

That’s the normal policy whenever street, sidewalk and alley “vacations” are done for developers.

On Wednesday, City Hall reversed field: There will be no appraisal, because no additional compensation will be required.

A top mayoral aide disclosed that the $4.75 million the Cubs have promised Wrigleyville — including $1 million to build a park on School Street and $3.75 million over 10 years for neighborhood infrastructure projects of the community’s choosing — would be enough. There will be no additional compensation.

The issue of compensation is a sensitive one, given Cubs Chairman Tom 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.

During marathon hearings on the Cubs plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it, community leaders complained about the taking of public streets and sidewalks and, at the very least, demanded compensation for it.

The decision to waive additional compensation is not the mayor’s only concession to the Cubs.

He’s also planning a legislative “fix” to remedy the Cubs’ complaints about the ordinance that gave the team the green light to play up to 46 night games-per-season.

It will remove wording that gives the city unprecedented control over when rained-out games are rescheduled and when nationally televised games are played.

“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 the aldermen last spring.

At the Oct.16 City Council meeting, Emanuel also plans to introduce an ordinance authorizing the closing of Sheffield for street fairs during weekend home games between Memorial Day and Labor Day, beginning two hours before the first pitch and ending at the end of the second inning.

Once all of those changes are in place, Emanuel is hoping to see some action on the $500 million project.

“We expect construction to begin in November,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

Another Emanuel adviser added, “The mayor is meeting his commitments and expects the Cubs to do the same. But, we also are encouraging them and the rooftops to work out their differences.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the mayor’s decision to waive compensation for the encroachment on Waveland and Sheffield is appropriate considering the “significant economic benefit” that the project will produce.

Green said the Cubs are prepared to do significant structural and electrical work at Wrigley during the off-season. But, he said, “Until we get a resolution with the rooftops, we will not begin construction. And that has yet to happen.”

Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, countered, “The rooftop owners support the renovation of Wrigley Field and want the Cubs to succeed. There is nothing stopping the owners of one of the most valuable teams in baseball from fixing the dugouts, the bathrooms or the multitude of improvements that are long overdue. Let’s be clear — those aspects of renovation have nothing to do with the issue between the Cubs and rooftops. For a team that set deadlines, their silence has been deafening when it comes to their upcoming renovation plans.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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