The Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday approved the Cubs’ revised plan to renovate Wrigley Field in a way sensitive enough to qualify for federal tax credits with a warning not to use “bullying tactics” to muscle rooftop club owners into selling their properties to the team at “fire-sale” prices.
The bullying charge originated with Tom Moore, an attorney representing rooftop club owners whose lawsuit seeks to overturn the Landmarks Commission’s earlier plan to authorize seven outfield signs, two of them video scoreboards.
The new plan, approved Thursday at the behest of the U.S. National Park Service, drops one of the seven new outfield signs, swaps the location of two signs and reduces the size of a video board to isolate the iconic center-field scoreboard and preserve the uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers.
“Crane Kenney [Cubs president of business operations] repeatedly told rooftop owners that, thanks to the Landmarks Commission’s decision, he could now block their views and put them out of business. Alternatively, he said he would buy their businesses at fire-sale prices, take it or leave it . . . if rooftop owners had incurred a larger debt than the Cubs were now willing to pay, it was the rooftop problem — not the Cubs’ problem,” Moore said Thursday, noting that several rooftop owners have succumbed to the pressure.
“I understand the excuse is that someone in Washington said . . . you simply have too many signs. But did the Washington bureaucrat say, `Relocate the signs so that they block only the rooftops the Cubs have not been able to purchase?’ Did the Washington bureaucrat require the bigger, denser signs to be relocated to more completely block the rooftops that have not succumbed to the Cubs’ monopoly pressure, or is that just a coincidence?”
Acting Landmarks Commission Chairman Jim Houlihan picked up the ball and ran with it.
He warned Cubs Vice President Mike Lufrano directly not to engage in “bullying tactics.”
“The issue was raised as to whether the location of signage was being used in some of the negotiations with the rooftops. It is not directly a part of our review. But it certainly is important in terms of their trying to work effectively with their neighbors,” Houlihan said after the meeting.
“It would be unfortunate if there were bullying tactics being used. And it would be a long-term mistake for the Cubs. The Cubs’ success is, in great part, its relationship to that neighborhood.”
Cubs spokesman Julian Green flatly denied trying to muscle rooftop owners.
The plan approved Thursday is tailor-made to qualify for a federal tax credit that could be worth up to $75 million.
Under the deal, the Cubs have agreed to: scrap a 650-square foot script sign in left-field; swap the locations of a video board and a 650-foot script sign in right field; reduce the size of the right-field video board from 2,400-to-2,200 square feet and move the left-field video board 30 feet closer to the iconic centerfield scoreboard, but still 105 feet away from it.
During Thursday’s meeting, Eleanor Gorski, the city’s landmarks chief, disclosed that, when the Cubs pulled back the ivy to rebuild the bleachers, they discovered that portions of the brick wall were “crumbling” and might have to be rebuilt.
Her warning underscored just how complicated it is to rebuild a century-old stadium, let alone keep playing in it.
Gorski said the goal is to keep the wall as stable as possible until Year Two of the project, when the ivy will be taken down, laid on the ground and inspected by one Landmarks Commission member, instead of all of them.
“We’ll together document it, make a judgment about what you can save and what you can’t save. The stuff that can’t be saved, we’ll take down and repair. The stuff we can, we’ll save and re-use. But we’ll do it in the field rather than wait to report to the commission,” said a Cubs official who asked to remain anonymous.
Commission member Mary Ann Smith asked how the ivy would be preserved and even volunteered for ivy preservation duty. The Cubs said the team is prepared to remove the ivy ever so carefully and protect it with a plywood base. They’re also growing replacement ivy in a greenhouse just in case.
“This underscores how delicate, how intricate this process is, but we knew this going in. We would have to be flexible having both a city agency and a federal agency having oversight. And we understand we’re going to have to come back here early and often,” Green said.
Smith was also the only commission member to vote no.
“If we’re being asked to cast votes on revenue-generating elements which are somewhat troublesome to a historic structure, I want to know what the other revenue sources are,” Smith said.
“How much do they get from special events? What are their plans to do more special events? A lot of the systems they’re putting into the stadium look like amenities necessary for entertainment, rather than baseball. We’re signing off on tax credits and all kinds of stuff. I want to know what the money picture is.”