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Wrigleyville community leaders accuse Cubs of plaza power play

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the Cubs should declare victory and accept a deal on how the team can use the plaza they're building outside Wrigley Field. | Getty Images

Wrigleyville community leaders on Tuesday accused the Cubs of running roughshod over the neighborhood — and ignoring legitimate public safety concerns — in a heavy-handed attempt to open what they called the “Midwest’s largest beer garden.”

In a letter to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, presidents of East Lakeview, Southport, Hawthorne and Triangle Neighbors Associations accused the Cubs of pulling the plug on months of negotiations in favor of an end-run around area residents and their local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).

At issue is the Cubs’ surprise decision to apply for a patio permit that could pave the way for extended liquor sales — until 11 p.m. on weekdays at midnight on weekends — at an open-air plaza adjacent to a renovated Wrigley Field.

“The Cubs organization is trying to bypass the community engagement process by going directly to the city’s liquor commissioner to obtain this liquor license — a year-round beer garden of unprecedented size and scope, which would serve alcohol to 4,000-to-6,000 people, 10-to-12 hours-a-day 365 days of the year,” the letter states.

If the team’s request is granted, the Cubs would have a patio liquor license “30 times larger” than Chicago’s largest, which has a maximum capacity of 200 patrons.

That would threaten both the safety of local residents and “the quality of life that we’ve worked so hard to preserve while living in the shadow of Wrigley Field,” the community leaders said.

“How will the Cubs organization and city officials address the public safety issues associated with hosting the Midwest’s largest beer garden? How many police officers will the city need to pull from other neighborhoods in order to keep the peace with thousands of intoxicated partygoers spilling into the streets at 11 p.m. or midnight? How will you ensure the safety of the families at the plaza enjoying `family-friendly’ activities alongside this beer garden . . . without taking precious CPD resources away from other communities?” the letter states.

“The safety and quality of life of our community cannot be compromised by the pursuit of revenue. . . . It is not the responsibility of the community to help the Cubs owners generate revenue. And we won’t be bullied into meeting the demands of the Cubs organization by attacks on our process in the media.”

Wrigleyville residents have already accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of going too far by giving the Cubs the go-ahead to put up two video scoreboards, four other outfield signs, extend the Wrigley footprint onto public streets and sidewalks without compensating Chicago taxpayers, and play more night games.

At Emanuel’s behest, the City Council also approved the Cubs’ ambitious plan to develop the land around Wrigley Field with a hotel, an office building and open-air plaza with even more advertising signs.

The letter delivered Tuesday makes it clear that Wrigleyville community leaders have had it up to here with the seemingly endless string of demands.

They want the Cubs to “reconsider this misguided proposal,” which they claim will not accomplish the “town square in Europe” that Ricketts has described as his model. Or failing that, they want Emanuel to draw a line in the sand just as he nixed the Cubs’ plan to shut down Clark and Addison on game days at Wrigley Field.

“We have been operating in good faith over the past two years to give you and your partners every opportunity to work with us in finding solutions that would benefit both the Cubs and the community. After all of the entitlements given to the Cubs organization in recent years, it came as a surprise to read comments indicating your impatience with a process that has already greatly enhanced your business,” the letter states.

In an emailed statement, Chicago Cubs vice president Julian Green wrote: “The Plaza is not intended to be driven by alcohol service 365 days a year. The Plaza is also not unprecedented in size and scope. There are several other outdoor plazas and venues in the Chicagoland area which are permitted to host events and serve food and beverages, including Millennium Park, Northerly Island and Daley Plaza. The Plaza will be an attractive destination for hosted events which will benefit the entire community and generate increased commerce and celebrate the best Chicago has to offer.”

Last week, Tunney stood his ground against the Cubs’ request for a patio license.

“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.”

The City Council plays no role in granting a patio license. 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 Wrigley renovation, the patio license will be blocked. That would allow Tunney to push through his revised outdoor patio ordinance that would sharply restrict liquor sales and attendance at the open-air plaza.

If the alderman has his way, the plaza would be open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Liquor sales on the plaza would be limited to beer and wine and 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.

The ordinance would also “tailor the type of activity” allowed at the outdoor plaza and limit “special events” to eight a year for the first two years. Special events would require a “public place of amusement license,” but a single special event could last for up to 15 days.

Special events would be defined as non-baseball activities or concerts that attract more than 1,000 patrons and generates more noise than the city currently allows.

That does not cover the “family-friendly events” that Tunney favors, such as ice-skating, farmer’s markets and movies in the parks.