Landmarks Commission OKs video scoreboard, right-field sign for Wrigley Field
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com July 11, 2013 7:21PM
Wrigley Field as the Cubs play the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, in Chicago. | Chandler West~Sun-Times
Updated: August 13, 2013 6:45AM
Like a flame-throwing closer summoned from the bullpen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the save Thursday in delivering the biggest win yet in the Cubs’ quest to renovate Wrigley Field without a public subsidy.
Over the emotional objections of local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), the Emanuel-controlled Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved a 4,560-square-foot video scoreboard in left field; a static, 650 sqaure-foot see-through sign in right field, and a “sign matrix” that will guide future stadium advertising.
The Jumbotron will be 95 feet wide and 48 feet tall. That’s down from a width of 100 feet, meaning five feet less of rooftop blockage. But the script sign atop the Jumbotron and the light standards above that would take the entire video board to 5,700 square feet.
That’s way too big to satisfy Tunney and rooftop club owners, whose 17 percent revenue-sharing agreement with the Cubs has 10 more years to run.
Thursday’s meeting was delayed for two hours, in part, to allow the mayor’s political point man, Matt Hynes, to huddle privately with Tunney in hopes of softening his opposition. It didn’t work.
The alderman choked back tears as he declared his opposition to a video scoreboard with lights that, he warned, would be visible from “blocks and blocks away” from Wrigley.
“I can’t support a proposal that so dramatically affects the quality of life for residents,” Tunney said, his voice breaking with emotion.
“It is 6,000 square feet — just short of it. It’s also 12 feet thick and it is to be erected within 30 feet of residential homes. . . . The enormity of this sign in your front window is obviously something that I have to be very attentive to. The Cubs often point to large signs at Fenway and U.S. Cellular. . . . These signs back up to expressways — not people’s living rooms.”
Tunney’s plea struck a chord with Landmarks Commission members.
Former Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th), a Tunney friend, tried to “stir it up,” as she put it, by suggesting that the vote be postponed until there’s an estimate of how much revenue the outfield signs would generate for the Cubs.
Commission member Jim Houlihan fretted about a 20-year “sign matrix” that appears to give the Cubs carte blanche to go around the Landmarks Commission and could someday allow the team to fill the outfield with signs.
That’s even though Cubs Executive Vice President Mike Lufrano said the team has no such plans.
“Most of us have some restraint and don’t take everything from the buffet,” but what if there is none, Houlihan said.
But after more than four hours of testimony, the Landmarks Commission followed the mayor’s marching orders.
Emanuel was forced to do what he spent months trying to avoid — ride herd over a local alderman determined to go to bat for his community — after becoming convinced that Tunney was having trouble making a deal, sticking to it and selling it to his constituents.
“The mayor agreed to a framework [with the Cubs] and he was true to his word,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.
Emanuel’s decision to reprise the closer’s role he perfected in Washington, D.C., allows Tunney to play the hero who fought the good fight for his constituents and small businesses only to run into the political version of an ivy-covered wall.
It’s a role Tunney will continue to play as the $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it wends its way through the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council.
Tunney has demanded that the Cubs 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.
But the Cubs now have their biggest and most lucrative political victory. Emanuel gets the save.
“The Ricketts family trusted the mayor to get us through this process,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said after the vote. “We trust in the mayor’s leadership to get us to the finish line.”
Lufrano added, “These signs . . . are a critical part of the restoration project. The expected revenue from signage overall will fund much of the plan for Wrigley Field restoration and will keep Wrigley Field competitive for modern-day Major League Baseball. As you look around sports, every team in baseball has signage in their outfield.”
Marc Hamid, owner of Skybox on Sheffield, left little doubt that rooftop owners would follow through on their threat to file a lawsuit to block the outfield signs. If they succeed, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has threatened to move the team out of Wrigley.
“If you . . . grant permission to the Ricketts family to place a sign in right field, you will block the views of my customers,” Hamid said. “This commission is supposed to protect the historic nature of Wrigley Field — not pick winners and losers. . . .You’re on the cusp of ripping up the landmark ordinance that was the basis for a multimillion dollar investment by rooftop owners . . . without considering a viable alternative.”