Cubs try squeeze play on Tunney over plaza liquor sales

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An emergency preparedness exercise - with, possibly, some loud noises — will be held at Wrigley Field on Thursday. | Sun-Times file photo

The Cubs on Thursday accused Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) of “fronting” for Clark Street bars and tried a squeeze play that could pave the way for extended liquor sales at an open-air plaza adjacent to a renovated Wrigley Field.

Tunney has angered the Cubs with his attempt to roll back the team’s ability to sell beer and wine from kiosks to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends. The alderman’s proposed ordinance also cut off alcohol sales for one hour after Cubs games and special events ended.

The aldermen has said he was simply trying to strike a balance between the Cubs’ need to generate additional revenue and the community’s demand for peace and quiet.

The Cubs accused Tunney 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.

On Thursday, the Cubs pulled the plug on months of negotiations with local bar owners and went around Tunney.

Levy Restaurants applied for a patio permit that would permit liquor sales on the year-round plaza for the extended hours included in Tunney’s original 2013 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 time has come to move forward. We can’t afford to wait any longer. We’ve been having these discussions since 2014,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said.

“We believe we should be able to compete fairly,” he said. “You can’t limit our ability to effectively run our business to protect others’ profits. We plan to continue talking. But we need to take action now.”

Green said Tunney “asked us to meet with a select group of bar owners on Clark Street” to address the tavern owners’ concerns. Some of those bar owners “lobbied that we don’t have the ability to sell any alcohol,” Green said.

“After months of discussions, it became abundantly clear to us that the alderman is seeking to place further restrictions that create an unlevel playing field and favors a select group of businesses over the other,” he said.

“We believe we should be able to provide choices to our fans and neighbors,” Green said. “We’re insisting that the alderman help us create a level playing field. The patio license we’re applying for is the same patio license that would be available to the owner of a bar or restaurant.”

In a statement released after the Cubs maneuver, Tunney said his “number one priority” is ensuring the public safety and preserving the quality of life for neighbors and fans.

“That’s why, before a liquor license is granted, we need to first have the community and proper city departments address the issues that come with a 365-day-a-year, 12-hour-a-day outdoor beer garden serving 4,000 or more people,” the alderman was quoted as saying.

“That is why I proposed a plaza ordinance that allowed beer and wine service and events on a more limited basis while we worked through any issues.”

Tunney said he and his constituents “applaud the Cubs commitment to family-friendly events on the plaza, like the ice rink, farmers markets and movies in the park.”

But he said, “We are very concerned with the potential serving of alcohol to thousands of people on the plaza every day of the year.”

It’s not the first time the Cubs have accused their local alderman of doing the bidding of local businesses. The team accused Tunney of fronting for the owners of rooftop clubs surrounding Wrigley during the battle royal that preceded city approval of the plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it. The Cubs have since purchased nearly all of the rooftop clubs.

Green said the Cubs hope to complete the outdoor plaza “near the end” of this season and open it for festivals, concerts and special events in the event the team with the best record in Major League Baseball goes to the post-season.

“The urgency now is being able to book events. . . . Whether it’s concerts or a food and wine festival, people are going to want to know how we can operate,” Green said.

Earlier this year, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts likened Wrigleyville to “a town in Europe” and fleshed out his vision for an open-air plaza that would “energize the neighborhood all year-round.”

“Unfortunately, on non-game days, there’s not a lot going on around Wrigley Field. As we restore the ballpark to its former beauty, I tell our guys, `Think about when you’re walking through a town in Europe and you stumble across an historic building.’ The way it’s lit. And you see people just hanging around it because it’s so beautiful and so warm and so historic,” Ricketts told the tourism group known as Choose Chicago at its annual meeting.

“We have to have our ballpark look like that on non-game days,” he said. “People just want to be there is our goal. So building a plaza to do things like farmer’s markets and ice rinks and things that are friendly to the neighbors as well as building a plaza to do different types of shows and different types of events should begin to drive more revenue” and create that year-round attraction.

Green stressed Thursday 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 be limited to beer and wine. Portions would be limited to 16 ounces in plastic cups. Drinks would have to be consumed within the confines of the sports plaza. The team also has offered to hire additional security for the plaza, he said.

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