Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made it possible for the Cubs to renovate 101-year-old Wrigley Field without a public subsidy. But there’s a limit to how far he’s willing to go to accommodate a wealthy team owner with five weeks to go before the mayoral runoff.
On Tuesday, Emanuel drew the line and rejected two requests from the Cubs — one for non-stop construction seven days a week to speed up a bleacher reconstruction project delayed by frigid temperatures, and a revised request to build from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The mayor said there would be no exceptions to the ordinance confining construction work to the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If that means the right-field bleachers won’t be ready until early June and the bleachers in left and center field don’t open until May 11, so be it.
“The city ordinance is clear. You can’t have 24-hour building,” Emanuel said Tuesday.
“We want to see the opportunity for both a healthy Wrigley Field and a healthy Wrigleyville. But the ordinance . . . is pretty clear. It’s not pretty clear. It’s absolutely clear [when] it comes to 24-hour construction.”
Cubs’ spokesman Julian Green responded to the mayoral rejection with a modified request.
“An official letter of request has been submitted to the Department of Buildings to request a variance to the City noise ordinance and allow construction work, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. We will work with the city and our community to understand the issues and constraints. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to get as much work done as possible,” Green wrote in an emailed statement.
“We understand and respect the mayor’s perspective. Our interest has always been in working as hard as we can and getting as much work done as possible in a short time frame. But we understand we also need to be conscious of the impact on our neighbors.”
The answer was the same: No.
City Hall sources said exemptions to city limits on construction hours are confined to “emergencies and certain public improvement projects like roads and other infrastructure projects in the public way.” Wrigley Field does not fit any of those criteria. That means an exemption could only be granted by the City Council.
“City ordinance is clear. The request made by the Cubs for any type of expanded hours is not allowed under city code,” Buildings Department spokesperson Mimi Simon wrote in an email.
Wrigleyville residents have already accused Emanuel of going too far by giving the Cubs the go-ahead to play more night games, put up two video scoreboards, four other outfield signs and extend the Wrigley footprint onto public streets and sidewalks without compensating Chicago taxpayers.
At Emanuel’s behest, aldermen also approved the Cubs’ ambitious plan to develop the land around Wrigley Field with a hotel, an office building and open-air plaza.
Now that he’s fighting for his political life in the April 7 runoff, Emanuel is not about to infuriate Wrigleyville residents further by giving the Cubs carte blanche to use jackhammers all night long or even well into the night.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, who mediated talks between the Cubs and rooftop club owners, said he doesn’t blame the Cubs for asking for extended construction hours to avoid losing millions for every day that the rebuilt bleachers are delayed.
But O’Connor said the Cubs’ request was politically untenable and poorly timed.
“In making the ask, they had to realize there wasn’t much chance that was gonna happen. You can’t expect people to totally abandon their ability to enjoy their community 24 hours a day for the Cubs,” O’Connor said.
“With the winter we’ve had, I’m sure they’re behind. But that’s not something the neighborhood should bear the brunt of. There’s a huge bottom line. Every home game they don’t have costs them money. But we can’t have 24-hour construction. When you live next to Wrigley, you expect activity. You expect it to be an entertainment district. But you don’t expect it 24 hours a day.”
Local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) did not return repeated phone calls.