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Wrigley Plaza rules relaxed, but not quite enough to satisfy the Cubs

A Cubs official said the team is “puzzled” about being required to “keep neighbors with no tickets out of a free park and end alcohol sales one hour after games ... we are a responsible operator. ... We just want a level playing field.”

Fans gather in April at Gallagher Way, the plaza next to the west side of Wrigley Field.
Fans gather in April at Gallagher Way, the plaza next to the west side of Wrigley Field, before last season’s home opener.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The local alderman who restricted hours and access to the Wrigley Field plaza to prevent it from becoming the “Midwest’s largest beer garden” is loosening the reins, but not quite enough to satisfy the Cubs.

Although the Cubs tried hard to defeat him, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) negotiated — and the City Council’s License Committee on Wednesday endorsed — a five-year agreement allowing the team to sell hard liquor on the plaza and hold 12 “high-impact special events” each year that draw more than 1,000 people.

Special event permits will be required only for events “with an expected attendance or 1,000 or more people.” Three-day festivals will count as one special event.

The Cubs would be free to hold a virtually unlimited number of smaller events at the plaza, now named Gallagher Way.

Plaza closing times of 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. on weekends would remain under the package of changes poised for full Council approval next week.

Hard liquor must be sold in plastic cups, with serving sizes limited to three fluid ounces. Beer, hard cider, hard seltzer, malt liquor and similar beverages would be limited to 16 fluid ounces. Wine would have a 6.3-fluid ounce limit.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), missed a committee meeting Tuesday at which the Cubs won some relaxed rules for their plaza outside the west edge of Wrigley Field.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), seen here chairing a Zoning Committee meeting last year, once feared that the Wrigley plaza would turn into, what he called the “Midwest’s largest beer garden.” Now, he’s loosening the reins, but not quite enough to satisfy the Cubs.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The ordinance defines a festival as an “organized series of public activities that may include cultural performances, exhibitions, and other activities and may include music and the service off food and beverage, provided the music is incidental to other activities at the festival.”

High-impact special events were defined as special events held on the plaza that “requires a special event permit, has an expected attendance of 1,000 people or more and includes a concert, watch party for a sporting event aired while the event is being played other than a Cubs home game or festival.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called the plaza a “benefit to the community” that should be continued under more liberal rules because “life is about compromises” — even between Tunney and a Cubs organization that tried desperately to defeat him by bankrolling his opponents.

Tunney heeded that advice and rose above the political acrimony.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the ordinance “does most of what we need” and team officials “appreciate the progress we’ve made” with Tunney.

But, after delivering “family-friendly events” and putting to rest Tunney’s fears of the plaza becoming “the Midwest’s largest beer garden,” Green said the Ricketts family did not get all it wants or deserves.

“We are still puzzled as to why we are being restricted to keep neighbors with no tickets out of a free park and end alcohol sales one hour after games when we have clearly demonstrated we are a responsible operator,” Green wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“We don’t want it all. We just want a level playing field.”

Heather Way-Kitzes, Cubs assistant director of government affairs and a former candidate for 47th Ward alderman, told aldermen the Cubs were urged to “walk before we ran” and now should be turned loose.

“Our three years of exemplary operations have dispelled fears of a nightmare of alcohol service 365 days-a-year,” Way-Kitzes said.

“This ordinance makes progress. ... It allows the sale of spirits in addition to beer and wine. It increases flexibility in the number of events we can hold and when. ... It recognizes events with expected attendance below 1,000 people at any one time have no negative impact and so it does not limit their number or require them to get a special event permit. [But] we did not get everything we had hoped.”

Tunney was on vacation. Chief-of-staff Bennett Lawson said the Cubs’ request to give those without game-day tickets access to the plaza was a “non-starter” with the alderman.

“When you have 40,000 people coming, we have issues with traffic and parking. To add another 6,000 on game days was really something that the police, the neighborhood, the alderman weren’t open to,” Lawson said.

“Same is true for after the game. Day-game crowds tend to stay the longest. One of the focuses of the police is to get everyone moving through the neighborhood safely. We talked about that with our community groups and businesses and decided to keep the restrictions as they are. “

Though the Cubs got only some changes, it was a virtual love-fest compared to the bitter acrimony of previous negotiations between Tunney and the Cubs.

“In the spirit of remarkable conciliation that we have here with Ald. Tunney’s office joining with the Cubs, I would request that a White Sox fan make the motion for approval,” Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), vice-chairman of the License Committee, said with a smile.