Measured in baseball time, the Cubs’ venture into the outdoor bar business looks to be in about the fourth inning.
The Cubs can’t possibly believe this game is close to over, right?
Not when the Cubs’ proposal for an open-air drinking establishment next to Wrigley Field remains vague. Not when the quality of life in a whole neighborhood is on the line.
The Cubs have every right to run a sports bar, which is what their “Plaza” really would be at times, at least in summer. And we can’t see the fairness in Ald. Tom Tunney’s insistence that game-day liquor sales there be restricted to ticket holders, limited to wine and beer, and cut off after the 7th inning.
Not unless Tunney is prepared to impose the same restrictions on Murphy’s Bleachers, the Cubby Bear and every other sports bar feeding off the Cubs’ success.
But before the Cubs open the biggest outdoor tavern in the Chicago area, as part of a larger $575 million redevelopment project, City Hall would be smart to nail down answers to any number of basic questions about crowd capacity, noise, food, restrooms and the like — and get it all in writing.
Because right now, this thing looks awfully big.
* Most troubling, the Cubs have yet to say what the patio’s customer capacity would be on any given day. They have thrown around numbers from 3,000 to 6,000. The size of the crowd would depend in part, the Cubs say, on the nature of the event, which of course would include ballgames, but also might include wine festivals, farmers markets and yoga sessions.
“While it is possible 6,000 could fit on the plaza in rare occasions, occupancy could be as low as 3,000 for a baseball skills clinic or corporate sponsorship,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said.
If that sounds terribly imprecise, it is. But you can bet the Cubs are looking for many more booze-selling post-game parties than Saturday morning yoga classes. That’s where the money is.
The Cubs say they would prefer an ordinance that does not require them to get separate approval for a long list of special events at the plaza, but we can’t see why the city should settle for less. How else can the city and the neighborhood set tolerable limits?
* The Cubs say they want to sell liquor mostly on game days until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday from up to four kiosks. Green says they do not intend to operate a patio bar every day in warm weather.
But hold up there: The Cubs’ concessionaire has applied for an “outdoor patio” permit that, on paper, seeks the sale of beer, wine and hard liquor from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, to ticketholders and non-ticketholders alike. The hours should be agreed upon in writing, as part of the controlling ordinance. Four neighborhood groups have charged the bid to get a patio permit is an attempt to bypass their negotiations for a City Council ordinance because the Chicago Liquor Commission would have to sign off on it.
* What about restrooms? While Chicago has no restroom code for outdoor plazas, the Cubs say they are planning dedicated restrooms for patio patrons in a new adjacent office building at a ratio of 1 for every 100 people. The Cubs say that’s better than the 1 to 175 ratio required for stadiums. Will that be enough to discourage Cubs fans from urinating on people’s lawns?
* The plaza will feature a massive, 1,225-square-foot video screen, hung from the new office building, so fans there can watch games in progress. Amplification of the game would require an extra, special use permit. If the Cubs went that route, how much noise are they looking to make, and at what time of day and night?
Green tells us that a public hearing will be held in the community on the licensing request by June 10. The Cubs, coordinating with Tunney, expect to set the date after Memorial Day, when the alderman is back from vacation.Before that meeting is held, it is only reasonable to ask that the Cubs provide the community specific and detailed answers in writing to all these basic questions, in addition to others. The people of Wrigleyville can’t size up the merits of the Cubs’ plan until they know, for real, what that plan is.If that means the Cubs’ new party plaza does not open late this summer, in time for playoff mania, so be it. Sometimes a good game goes into extra innings.
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