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Tunney stands his ground against Cubs’ patio license squeeze play

The Chicago Cubs are building a new office building and plaza along Clark Street. | File photo/Getty Images

Like a catcher blocking home plate before the rules were changed, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) on Tuesday stood his ground against the Cubs’ request for a patio permit to sell liquor at an open-air plaza adjacent to a renovated Wrigley Field.

“Remember they wanted to close Clark and Addison? This is another way of trying to close Clark and Addison. If you look at the rules for the patio license they requested, they could stay open from 11 a.m. to midnight and allow people to drink all day and all night during the game and after the game. That’s a public safety issue,” Tunney said.

“You have 41,000 people in the stadium. We don’t want an additional 4,000 people in the plaza at least for the first couple of years while we figure out how we can absorb the 100,000 square feet of food and beverage built into the planned development. That’s the equivalent of 10 very large bars. The concern for the community is public safety for the fans and, for the residents, trying to keep our streets open.”

Tunney noted that the largest outdoor patio in Chicago has a maximum capacity of 240 people.

“How does it make sense to allow a 4,000-person patio in a very small area adjacent to two of the busiest streets in the neighborhood? These people have been drinking before the game, during the game and after the game. That’s a problem,” he said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has said neighbors believe they have given the Cubs enough leeway already on changes they are making around the ballpark. | Sun-Times
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is opposed to the Cubs’ plans for extended liquor sale hours on a plaza being built next to Wrigley Field. | Sun-Times

“We’ve got to figure out how to absorb the 100,000 square feet of food and beverage in the hotel and office building before we embark on 365-day-a-year approval for a 4,000-person beer garden.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green accused Tunney of creating a double-standard for the Cubs and the bars that feed off the stadium crowd.

“We find it baffling the alderman would suggest drinking before, during and after a Cubs game is a public safety issue when there are 81 liquor licenses within a short walk of Wrigley Field that promote drinking before, during and after Cubs games,” Green wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The great many of these bars are responsible operators who have brought increased commerce to the neighborhood. We know we are capable of doing the same thing with one of the most responsible and trained food and beverage operators in the industry.”

Last week, the Cubs accused Tunney of “fronting” for Clark Street bars and tried a squeeze play that could pave the way for the open-air plaza to offer extended liquor sales in time for an expected post-season run by the team with the best record in Major League Baseball.

After months of nowhere negotiations with local bar owners at Tunney’s request, the Cubs pulled the plug and went around the local alderman.

Levy Restaurants applied for a patio permit that would permit liquor sales on the plaza for the extended hours included in Tunney’s original 2013 outdoor patio ordinance: until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. The patio license would also pave the way for the sale of mixed drinks in addition to beer and wine.

The City Council plays no role in granting an outdoor patio permit. It’s approved by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Liquor Control Commission.

But if Emanuel sides with Tunney, as the mayor did during the marathon negotiations that preceded City Council approval of the Wrigley renovation, the patio permit will be blocked. That would allow Tunney to craft a revised ordinance that would sharply restrict liquor sales and attendance at the open-air plaza.

“That kind of outdoor patio — a beer garden 365-days-a-year — is unprecedented. This is a new license category we wouldn’t give to anybody else,” Tunney said.

If the alderman has his way, liquor sales on the plaza would be cut off after the seventh inning, just as they are inside Wrigley Field. On game days, attendance at the open air plaza would be limited to fans with tickets to the game. They would be free to roam between the stadium and the plaza.

“There’s a reason why liquor sales are ending after the 7th inning. That’s MLB policy. If you allow people who are no longer drinking in the stadium to have in-and-out privileges, they could just go out into the plaza, pick up their beers and go back in,” Tunney said.

“There’s plenty of liquor already approved in the office building and the hotel. Each of those buildings will also have outdoor space. They’re more than welcome” to patronize those locations.

The ordinance would also “tailor the type of activity” allowed at the outdoor plaza. Tunney said he favors “family-friendly events” such as ice-skating, farmer’s markets and movies in the parks. Outdoor concerts were conspicuously absent from the alderman’s list.

Green reiterated that, before the breakdown in compromise talks, the Cubs were prepared to take a series of steps to prevent the outdoor plaza from turning into a giant beer garden filled with inebriated patrons.

Sales would have been limited to beer and wine. Portions would have been limited to 16 ounces sold in plastic cups. Drinks would have been consumed within the confines of the sports plaza. The team also offered to hire security for the plaza, in addition to the police the Cubs pay to put on the street for three hours after each game.

The Cubs have accused Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) of going “too far” and “defeating the purpose of the plaza” in his attempt to appease Wrigleyville residents and minimize the competition with local bars and restaurants. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
The Cubs have accused Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) of going “too far” and “defeating the purpose of the plaza” in his attempt to appease Wrigleyville residents and minimize the competition with local bars and restaurants. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times