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Wrigley plan leaves unfinished business

Updated: May 17, 2013 6:20AM



There’s a reason why Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts called it a “framework” when City Hall finally agreed to let the Cubs renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it.

What they have is only the “framework” of a house — not a finished building with a furnished interior.

There are still big discrepancies between what Emanuel has agreed to support and what the Cubs say they need to preserve Wrigley for 50 years and make it the moneymaker Ricketts says he needs to turn the Cubs into a perennial contender.

“If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city. We need this project in order to bring our fans a winner. The financial impact of this proposal will help us do that,” Ricketts said Monday.

“It’s a significant amount of dollars that can be generated. ... I’m not sure exactly which dollars come in which years, but it absolutely increases Theo’s [Epstein] ability to put dollars to work on the field — and substantially.”

The Cubs’ plan calls for a 6,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field, a 1,000- square-foot see-through sign in right field and 35,000 square feet of advertising on a proposed 175-room hotel, an outdoor plaza and two-story Captain Morgan Club on Addison.

The team’s five-year construction plan also calls for “no compensation” to Chicago taxpayers — either for air rights over Clark Street to accommodate a pedestrian bridge linking the hotel to a new office building and plaza or for taking out a lane of parking on Waveland and a sidewalk on Sheffield to extend the right- and left-field walls outward to minimize the impact of those signs on rooftop views.

Emanuel’s staff has talked internally about a 5,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field and an 800-square-foot-sign in right field. But the mayor’s press release made no mention of specific size or placement. And the mayor’s office made it clear that it was “still negotiating” compensation for the air rights and for the city turning over a portion of a city street and sidewalk to the Cubs.

In 2006, Chicago taxpayers got $900,000 in compensation from the Cubs when the team extended the outfield walls eight feet onto the sidewalks along Waveland and Sheffield to eliminate the need for sidewalk columns to support a bleacher expansion.

The Cubs plan calls for Emanuel to: “support and promote” the Cubs’ application for a Class L property tax break for Wrigley; enforce capacity limits on rooftop club owners; prohibit new billboards “within view” of Wrigley; explore “new rules banning low-flying aircraft” around the stadium and restrict peddlers and street performers.

The city’s press release makes no mention of the Class L tax break, which would dramatically reduce Wrigley’s property tax bill. It’s also strangely silent about the billboard, ambush marketing, peddling, low-flying aircraft and rooftop capacity crackdowns.

The Cubs’ plan calls for the new hotel to be 91 feet high, with exterior advertising, and for the office building to be 85 feet tall with advertising on the “south and west faces” of the building.

It also calls for a four-screen digital board to be built in the open-air plaza that would be turned off only between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Despite the landmark designation that covers 99-year-old Wrigley’s “historic elements,” the Cubs’ plan would also give the team “discretion on all signage inside the ballpark not impacting rooftops,” including: an LED ribbon board along the upper-deck grandstand, a new fan deck in left field with signs, a new sign on the right-field wall and a new sign behind home plate.

City Hall makes no mention of building heights and specific amounts of signage, nor does it specify the hours of operation for the digital board.

On Monday, Ricketts was asked to explain the discrepancies between the city’s broad-strokes plan and the detailed version put forward by the Cubs.

“What we put out obviously is our proposal. There’s a lot of details in here. There’s been a lot of ... very productive discussions with both the mayor and the alderman. [But] there are some things to finalize,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts was asked whether there was any significance to the fact that Emanuel and local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) chose not to join him at Monday’s news conference in the soon-to-be enlarged Wrigley concourse.

“No, except that it’s cold and dark and kind of out of the way,” he joked.

Turning serious, he said, “The fact is, we’re all together on this. We’ve worked many, many hours talking through the issues and getting to this point. The mayor and his staff have been great. The alderman has been extremely productive. And we look forward to all moving forward together.”

At an unrelated event hours later, Emanuel called the framework a “win-win” for Wrigley Field, Wrigleyville and Chicago taxpayers.

“The Ricketts family and the owners can do the investments they need to do. But, it’s also a win for Wrigleyville…because we’re finally gonna get a parking plan, a security plan as well as a traffic plan and investments in the neighborhood that allow both to go forward together…and also from the notion of no taxpayer subsidy needed,” the mayor said, without taking questions on the deal.

In a prepared statement issued later in the day, Tunney said “there remains a great deal of work to do, especially with regard to community input.”

Rooftop club owners who were not party to the negotiations renewed their threat to file a lawsuit, calling the outfield signs a “direct violation” of their 17 percent revenue-sharing agreement with the team and a landmark ordinance that protects the “uninterrupted sweep” of the bleachers.

“We have a contract with the Chicago Cubs [with 11 years to run] and we intend to see that it’s enforced…We have fulfilled our end of the contract. We pay them 17 percent of gross revenues every year,” said Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers.

Murphy didn’t give an inch when told that Ricketts has characterized the rooftop agreement as containing “awkward” language.

“He should ask [Cubs executives] Crane Kenney and…Mike Lufrano what is awkward about the contract because they negotiated [it]. I sat in the same room with them when we were doing the contract….They’re well aware of what the intent of the contract was and what’s in the contract,” she said.

Ricketts said he has given no thought to what will happen if the rooftops seek a court injunction blocking construction that the Cubs hope to begin this fall.

“We know the agreement. We know we have the right to put up signs. After that, I really can’t control the future. We’re gonna go forward and we’ll see where it ends up,” he said.

Will DeMille, president of the Lakeview Citizens Council, said he’s all for the “framework” that allows the Cubs to forge ahead with community meetings and a planned development process.

But, what concerns him most is the decision to raise the ceiling on the number of night games to 40-per-season with the possibility of additional night games that don’t count toward that cap whenever games are rained out or Major League Baseball’s national television contract requires it. That’s in addition to six, 3:05 p.m. starts on Fridays and four concerts every season.

“When you add all of those up, you get to the potential for at least 61 night events,” he said.

“There are those who feel that going from 28 to potentially 61-a-year is more than the neighborhood can handle while we’re still working through the neighborhood protections. It may be ramping up too soon for what the city and the neighborhood can absorb.”



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