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Landmarks Commission member blasts revised Wrigley plan

Seven outfield signs — two of them video scoreboards — are too much for Wrigley Field to handle and will destroy the charm of the century-old stadium, a member of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks warned Thursday.

Before a meeting at which the Cubs had hoped to win approval of their revised Wrigley renovation plan, former lakefront Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th) made it clear she’s inclined to vote against the proposal, on the grounds that it disturbs one of the “historic elements” of Wrigley. Those elements were landmarked in 2004 in exchange for granting the Cubs permission to play more night games.

The designation covered the exterior and marquee sign at Clark and Addison, the quaint center field scoreboard and ivy-covered brick walls and the “uninterrupted sweep” of the bleachers and grandstand.

“The biggest question in my mind is, if they really understand the competitive edge they have with Wrigley Field and the historic elements there? Do they really understand how much fun people have and why people from all over the world…come and one of the top things on their list is to go to Wrigley Field?” Smith said.

“They don’t want to go to something that’s gonna be the same thing they see every place else in the country. People are hungry for authentic experiences. They’re just gonna squander part of the competitive edge that they have. It’s more than the Cubs. It’s Wrigley Field. The experience of the place….Who’s gonna want to go to some place that’s just the same old same old? It’s just like going to a strip-mall.”

Two weeks ago, the Cubs declared an impasse with rooftop club owners after months of nowhere negotiations and unveiled a revised plan that literally invites their revenue-sharing partners to file their long-threatened lawsuit.

The plan that added $75 million to the $300 million price tag of the stadium renovation called for: seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards; 300 new seats; 300 standing-room positions; and new outfield light standards, rising 92 feet. It also included a 30,000-square-foot home clubhouse in a two-level basement beneath an outdoor plaza west of the ballpark, a 200-seat restaurant and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout and three or four additional rows of bleacher seats.

Space for some of the new seats would be created by moving the bullpens from foul territory to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers. To give relief pitchers a view of the field, larger bullpen doors were included in the plan, but enlarging the doors would mean cutting into the century-old stadium’s ivy-covered brick walls.

That bullpen proposal blindsided and infuriated Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose administration had spent months working with the Cubs to finalize the expanded sign plan. The mayor got even with the Cubs by yanking the plan off Thursdays Landmarks Commission agenda.

To get out of the mayor’s doghouse, the Cubs dropped plans to enlarge the outfield doors and move the walls near the existing bullpens to create more seating. The team also apologized for its failure to communicate with City Hall.

That leaves the seven outfield signs as the biggest and most controversial element before the Landmarks Commission.

Smith, for one, believes that it’s all too much.

“The wonder of the place is the openness. You can see signage anywhere — and you do. You see signage everywhere and anywhere. And I just think that it’s gonna destroy the ambience,” she said.

Warning that the Cubs are coming perilously close to “killing the golden goose,” Smith said, “I see less baseball and more commercial retail. I also see so many elements being brought into this ballpark which are transforming it into an entertainment venue, rather than a ballpark.”

Earlier this week, Emanuel explained his decision to slow the revised project down.

“There were things that had not been seen. And I informed them. We hadn’t seen them. And there were things that were actually gonna endanger [the Cubs’] desire to not only continue to get Landmarks [approval], but the status from a preservation standpoint and the tax status. We’ll take some more time to work through the issues. We will get to it in the right way to address it. But, it was not ready,” Emanuel told the WTTW-TV program, “Chicago Tonight.”

Hinting strongly that the delay won’t last long, Emanuel said, “I want to see Wrigley Field modernized. That’s the right thing to do and that’s what I want to make sure the ownership can do and succeed. I also want to see investments in the neighborhood–investments in parks, security, traffic, all the things that have been on hold and should be done when you’re modernizing Wrigley Field.”

But, he added, “It’s no doubt, based on where the rooftops are, it will go right to court and we’ll finally settle this one way” or another.”