Cubs apply for permit for right-field sign
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter January 27, 2014 12:58PM
The view from one of the rooftops along right field when crews put up a test sign at Wrigley Field. | Provided photo
Updated: March 3, 2014 12:56PM
The Cubs have applied for a permit to put up a 650-square-foot sign in right field at Wrigley Field that will block, at least partially, the bird’s-eye view of the stadium from rooftops along Sheffield.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, portrayed the permit application as a positive development — even if it forces the courts to resolve the long-running dispute standing in the way of the renovation of century-old Wrigley.
“It gets this show on the road. Now we have a finite time in which we’ll get an answer and get a project going,” said O’Connor, who had brokered the talks at the mayor’s request.
“They continue to try and find a way to resolve it, but some problems have to be resolved in litigation. Now there’s legal standing to get this before a judge. And I’m fine with that. If nothing else, now they have a greater incentive to resolve this.”
The permit application was filed late Friday after a tumultuous week that saw a near-agreement between the Cubs and the rooftop owners fall apart and club owners file a defamation lawsuit against a stadium financing consultant who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co.
“We were hopeful we could come to some resolution. But given last week’s action, it appears that our proposal was rejected. They’ve decided to go forward with this legal action. We’re going forward with our right to put up the sign,” said Cubs spokesman Julian Green.
“This decision should not be construed as an indication that we’re moving forward with the entire construction project.”
Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said the Cubs’ permit application means: Game on.
Rooftop club owners “assembled a legal team quite some time ago in preparation” for a court fight, sources said.
“Rooftop owners believe any blockage of our views violates the contract we have with the owners of the Cubs [that has nearly 10 years to run]. We will proceed accordingly,” McLaughlin said.
“This is an unfortunate turn of events because our hope was to find a solution to this matter.”
Last fall, the Cubs put up a mock-up of the right-field that affirmed the worst nightmares of rooftop club owners who feared their views would be blocked.
The test run — using a sign that read “Wrigley Field” — was aimed at appeasing the rooftop owners and jump-starting stalled negotiations. Instead, it proved to Sheffield rooftop owners that views would, indeed, be blocked — even after the outfield wall is moved back by 15 feet. That would force rooftop patrons to look through the script sign because they won’t be able to see over it.
On Monday, Green made no apologies for the team’s decision to forge ahead with a sign that, both sides acknowledged, will block the views.
“Since day one, we have reduced the number of signs, the size of those signs and changed the locations of signs. We have done everything we can to help alleviate the concerns of our rooftop partners,” he said.
“We’re now moving forward with signs that are to help benefit this baseball club and this construction project. This was always about putting up signs in the business interests of this baseball team to put revenue back into the ballclub.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that the dispute between the Cubs and rooftop club owners would be resolved in the courts, potentially delaying for years a project already decades in the making.
O’Connor said then the two sides were “very close to a deal” that would have shifted the right-field sign to the top of one of the rooftop buildings.
But the deal “fell apart” when rooftop owners got a clearer picture of the impact of a massive video scoreboard planned for left-field.
“They didn’t feel they could live with it. They would have been happy to have the sign reduced or have the sign moved across the street. They would have been happy to do anything to make the sign less impactful. The Cubs were looking at ways to reduce the potential monetary loss but not necessarily do things to the sign,” O’Connor said then.
Years of bad blood between the Cubs and rooftop club owners were also resurrected by two recent developments: disparaging remarks about the rooftops made by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts at the Cubs convention and club owners’ decision to file the defamation lawsuit.
Ricketts has said repeatedly he won’t begin construction of his $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it until rooftop club owners agree not to sue to block two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project.
Emanuel and local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) have prodded the Cubs to get going — one way or another.