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Ricketts, City Hall deal on Wrigley renovation: video scoreboard, 40 night games, weekend street fairs

Wrigley Field is decked out for Chicago Cubs home opener against Milwaukee Brewers Monday April 8 2013 Wrigley Field. |

Wrigley Field is decked out for the Chicago Cubs home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday April 8, 2013 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 16, 2013 6:37AM



The Cubs will renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around it under a “framework” unveiled Sunday that includes a6,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field; a 1,000-square-foot see-through sign in right field; 40 night games; street fairs on weekend game days, and signage all over a new hotel and open-air plaza.

Nearly two weeks after the Cubs’ April 1 deadline, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) put aside their differences and sealed a deal that paves the way for a $500 million development expected to create 2,000 jobs and generate $20 million a year in new tax revenue for the city and state.

“For nearly a century, Wrigley Field has been a cherished institution in Chicago and the Wrigleyville community as well as a cathedral of baseball,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a news release. “This framework allows the Cubs to restore the Friendly Confines and pursue their economic goals while respecting the rights and quality of life of its neighbors. I want to thank the Ricketts family for their commitment to Chicago and commend all parties involved for making this agreement without the use of any taxpayer money. It will have a long-lasting positive effect on Chicago.”

Rooftop club owners who were not party to the negotiations have threatened 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.”

But, Sunday’s framework will attempt to preserve their bird’s-eye view of 99-year-old Wrigley “to the extent consistent with the needs of the team” to generate millions in signage revenue.

The left-field wall would be extended outward by as much as 10 feet — taking out a lane of parking on Waveland — to give the Cubs more concession space and mitigate the impact of a6,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left field.

The right-field wall also may be extended outward, taking out the sidewalk on Sheffield, to lessen the impact ofa 1,000-square-foot see-through sign “in the style of the existing Toyota sign” that’s in left field. The new sign in right field would be more than twice the size of the Toyota sign. That’s what rooftop club owners had feared. The closer the signs are to the rooftops, the more likely it is rooftop patrons can see over the signs, the precise location of which will be determined during the planned development process, which comes next.

In a statement from the Cubs, the team states that new addition to Wrigley’s right- and left-field corners will provide “more flexible space” for fans, including “connection points to bleachers and grandstands at the height” of the existing bleachers. The right-field addition will also include a ground floor restaurant opening onto Sheffield for an “expanded version of the existing Sheffield Grill.

In addition to the two new outfield signs, the Cubs said the team will have “discretion on all signage” inside the ballpark not impacting rooftops, including center field restoration, 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.

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 bleacher expansion. Taxpayers got $900,000 in compensation.

The team’s release stated that there will be “no compensation” to the city — either for the street lane on Waveland from Sheffield to Clark or for vacating the sidewalk on Sheffield from Addison to Waveland.

According to the Cubs, there will also be no reimbursement to the city for air rights tied to the proposed ornamental pedestrian bridge linking the 175-room hotel the team plans to builld on McDonald’s property, office building/conference center and outdoor patio.

Ricketts had offered to bankroll a $300 million Wrigley renovation without a public subsidy — and build a $200 million hotel and office building adjacent to the stadium — if the city lifted restrictions on signage and night games and allowed street fairs on game days.

The framework outlined Sunday gives the Cubs all of that and more while easing the burden on Wrigleyville residents:

◆ The 30-game ceiling on night games would be increased to 40 per season with the possibility of additional night games “when required by Major League Baseball’s national television contract” or when the Cubs make the playoffs.

◆ The Cubs would be permitted to stage four concerts per season; six 3:05 p.m. starts on Friday afternoons, and have “greater flexibility to hold off-season and smaller events” at Wrigley.

◆ To appease Wrigleyville residents whose lives would be made more difficult by the night games, concerts and late-afternoon starts, the Cubs have agreed to foot the bill for new traffic lights on Clark Street; 30 more security personnel outside the ballpark; 1,000 remote parking spaces — double the existing capacity — and provide free shuttle bus service to those lots instead of charging $6 a ride.

A marketing and awareness campaign will help promote a remote parking service that is seldom used. The Cubs also will contribute to a fund for school play lots and make unspecified annual contributions in each of the next 10 years to “public projects benefitting the community.”

The Cubs’ decision to waive the $6 currently imposed to park at remote lots and ride a shuttle to Wrigley will last for three years. After that, a fee may be re-imposed if the cost to the Cubs exceeds $100,000. Or, the cost of operating the lot “may come from community infrastructure projects and investments.”

Tunney had suggested construction of a new 300-space parking garage on the gravel cemetery lot the team owns at Clark and Grace to replace the 400 spaces that were supposed to be part of a “triangle building” adjacent to the ballpark.

But scores of residents signed an online petition against the new parking garage, fearing it would make traffic even more “unbearable” and turn their neighborhood into a “parking lot.”

◆ Beer sales would be extended until the end of the seventh inning or 10:30 p.m., whichever is earlier, instead of the seventh-inning stretch cutoff.

◆ During weekend home games between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Cubs would be permitted to close Sheffield for street fairs beginning two hours before the first pitch and ending at the end of the second inning.

◆ The Captain Morgan Club on Addison would be expanded to two stories, with additional space for a new merchandise store and visitor’s clubhouse.

◆ Signage would be permitted “along the hotel, office building” and open-air plaza, with a “four-screen video board within the plaza that would broadcast Cubs games and Movies in the Plaza.

Advertising will be allowed on the “south and west faces” of the 85-foot-high office building to be built at the north end of the triangle property, according to the Cubs. The four-screen digital board to be built in the open-air plaza would be turned off between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Together, the hotel, plaza and 14,000-square-foot Captain Morgan Club on Addison Street — complete with a merchandise store and space for a visitors clubhouse — will have 35,000 square feet of advertising.

The Emanuel administration has also agreed to “support and promote” the Cubs’ application for a Class L property tax break for Wrigley. The cost-saving status is available to all privately funded restorations of designated Chicago landmarks.

In addition to backing the Cubs’ request for Class L status for Wrigley, City Hall has also agreed to “explore new rules banning low-flying aircraft” around the stadium “to protect the community from noise and other disturbances.”

The laundry list of concessions from the city also includes a promise to “institute and enforce” rules for peddlers and street performers” consistent with the rules already in force at the United Center and U.S. Cellular Field.

Last year, Emanuel cut off Wrigley negotiations in anger over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the billionaire patriarch of the family that owns the Cubs.

Emanuel was furious at Joe Ricketts for working with high-profile Republican strategists on a $10 million plan to resurrect the Jeremiah Wright controversy against Obama.

On Sunday, that political controversy and years of conflict between the Cubs and Tunney were washed away by the glow of an agreement that took four years to negotiate.

It was so hard-fought and precarious, Sunday’s announcement was pushed back eight days, fueling speculation that it had come undone yet again.

Lights were installed at Wrigley only after years of political battles. The bleachers were expanded and the number of night games increased after similarly protracted controversies.

Still, Ricketts never played his trump card — by threatening to leave Wrigley — and never seriously considered Rosemont’s offer of 25 free acres to build a Wrigley replica; a dramatically reduced amusement tax, and no limits on signage, night games, concerts and street fairs.

“We are excited about moving forward with the approval process,” Ricketts was quoted as saying in the City Hall news release.

“Under the leadership of Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Tunney, we believe the . . . proposal will help us invest in Wrigley Field and the Lake View community. We are anxious to work with our community as we seek the approvals required to move the project forward.”

Emanuel is all about putting “points on the board” or, in this case, runs on the scoreboard.

By forging an agreement that eluded his predecessor, he hits the political equivalent of a grand slam.

He keeps the Cubs in Chicago and preserves Wrigley for another generation of baseball fans without a public subsidy.

The mayor, whose office churns out news releases for projects that create even a handful of jobs, also gets to claim at least partial credit for a biggie that includes 2,000 jobs.

For Tunney, the agreement gives him tangible concessions to prove he went to bat for his community and its small businesses. But it also gives Tunney an argument against those who have accused the aldermen of being a shill for rooftop club owners who are among his most reliable campaign contributors.

“Lakeview encompasses more than Wrigley Field. There are thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses who all contribute to the unique character of our neighborhood,” Tunney was quoted as saying in the news release. “Each of them benefits from the Cubs and there is no doubt our neighborhood is better and more vibrant with the Cubs at Clark and Addison. I’m proud they’ve recommitted to Wrigley Field.”

Several hurdles remain, led by the threatened court challenge by the rooftops.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks must approve the new stadium signage and the decision to relax the ordinance that landmarked historic elements of Wrigley.

The City Council must approve the new night games, concerts and street fairs; give zoning approval to the new hotel and office building, and amend the planned development that called for the triangle building to include a 400 space garage. The long-stalled triangle building will include hotel meeting space, Cubs offices, retail shops and a “kids zone” along with the open-air plaza. The Cubs will also be allowed to “reconstruct” the Brown parking Lot on Eddy Street.

The Cubs have had a rocky relationship with Tunney, in part, because of how frequently he has gone to bat for rooftop club owners, who have hosted campaign fund-raisers for the alderman.

Tunney worked closely with the Cubs on a 2006 bleacher expansion. But he drew the line on the illuminated Toyota sign in left field that obscured the view of a Horseshoe Casino sign on the rooftop of a building owned by Tom Gramatis.

Tunney initially argued that the see-through sign was “not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood or the spirit of the landmarks” designation, then agreed to it in exchange for a four-year moratorium on additional outfield signs that expires in 2014.

Opposition from Tunney and area merchants also had blocked the Cubs’ plan to close down a blocklong stretch of Sheffield for nine days to make way for a family-friendly, interactive street fair during sold-out series against the Yankees, Cardinals and White Sox.



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