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Community leaders lash out at Cubs for revised Wrigley plan

Wrigleyville community leaders on Thursday reacted angrily to the Cubs’ request for more signs, seats and lights and warned of a political backlash if Mayor Rahm Emanuel agrees to it.

“They’ve gotten almost every possible revenue enhancement one can conceive of and they’re still asking. They haven’t built anything and they keep coming back for more,” said Jim Spencer, president of the East Lake View Neighbors Association.

“The fact that this thing was just announced and there’s already a date for the Landmarks Commission to talk about it [June 5] makes a lot of us feel this is a done deal…brokered in Rahm Emanuel’s private office. There’s a lot of disgust about Rahm Emanuel. It doesn’t help that he’s proposing to take over 16 buildings for the [CTA’s] Belmont Flyover.”

Will DeMille, president of the Lake View Citizens Council, said there needs to be a “dialogue” with the community before Emanuel’s handpicked Commission on Chicago Landmarks weighs in.

“Limitations on signs in the outfield obstructing [rooftop] views was justification for additional signage outside the stadium. If the plan is to erect more signs within the stadium, does that mean we can reduce the amount of signage outside?” DeMille said.

“Many in the community are still frustrated with the original agreement. Changes before there’s a groundbreaking and before there’s any discussion will add to those frustrations……We’d like to see portions of the original plan take place before we start talking about revisions.”

Chester Kropidlowski, past chairman of East Lake View Neighbors, said it’s clear that, with the mayoral election fast approaching, Emanuel wants to cut the ribbon on a $500 million project that puts union members and contractors to work.

“The mayor is behind it. The Cubs probably know that, so they’re trying to get more out of the system. But people are going to be upset. They think the Cubs have gotten more concessions than they should have from the city. The residential character of the neighborhood is being chipped away,” he said.

“There’s going to be a backlash from the Lake View community. Previous mayors…have always exhibited concern about the Lake View community. That no longer seems to be the case. This mayor seems more concerned about cutting ribbons and being involved in big-picture type activities.”

Earlier this week, the Cubs declared an impasse after months of nowhere negotiations with rooftop club owners and declared war — with a new and bigger proposal that invites the rooftops to sue.

It includes: a second video scoreboard; four additional outfield signs; 300 new bleacher seats and 300 standing room positions; new outfield light standards: a bigger clubhouse and relocating both bullpens from the field area to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers.

Fears that Emanuel may be on board with the request were exacerbated by City Hall’s response.

The mayor’s City Council floor leader, who tried and failed to broker a deal with the rooftops, branded the revised expansion plan “very real” and said he believes it “conforms” to the landmarks ordinance and will likely be approved.

The mayor’s office was equally receptive to any proposal that “helps the Cubs get closer to a ballpark renovation this fall and the jobs and neighborhood investment that come with it.”

Still, Landmarks Commission member Jim Houlihan said he has gotten no marching orders from the mayor’s office and doesn’t expect any, noting that Emanuel “has a fair amount of respect for the commission chair and the process.”

In fact, Houlihan expressed his own concerns about the new and bigger request from the Cubs.

“We had a fairly lengthy hearing about what they were proposing the first time. This is a substantial addition and there were a lot of questions about the original package,” Houlihan said.

“Our job is to preserve what is landmarked at Wrigley Field. Some of it is sight lines. Some of it is ivy. That’s what we’ll have to review. I really don’t have a prejudgment. I do have a sense that they need to explain why they’re coming to visit this issue again not having done anything.”

As for the impact on mayoral politics, Houlihan, a former Cook County assessor and top aide to Mayor Harold Washington, said it cuts both ways.

“There are some very positive things in cutting ribbons, but some very negative things if the community feels it goes too far,” Houlihan said.

“The Lake View community and its relationship to Wrigley Field is a very volatile issue. The increased activity and attractiveness of the facility are plusses to the neighborhood and the night games and volume of disruption has negatives. You can walk in any room and start a fight by saying, `I’m for the Cubs.’ Sadly, the performance of the baseball team in a city that thrives on sports success puts the Ricketts as the owners in a more difficult position.”

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) noted that the City Council approved the Cubs’ $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it, only after Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts agreed to limit the number of outfield signs to two for the nine-year duration of the rooftop agreement.

“We gave them so many concessions — so many ways to get revenue. I believe that was a fair compromise. And while I disagreed with some parts of it, we moved it forward,” he said.