The Cubs’ plan to rush through a revised plan to add more signs, seats and lights at Wrigley Field hit the political equivalent of the ivy-covered brick wall Wednesday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that his handpicked Commission on Chicago Landmarks would not consider the revised plan to build seven outfield signs, including a second video scoreboard, 300 new seats and new outfield light standards because there were elements of it that no one at City Hall had ever seen before that would impact landmarked elements of the century-old stadium.
The mayor pointed specifically to the plan to create more space for seats by moving the bullpens from foul territory to an area beneath the bleachers; the team released drawings showing parts of the outfield wall removed to give relief pitchers a view of the field.
“We are happy to address any questions about the bullpen doors or the bullpen relocation,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said when told of the mayor’s concerns. “The Cubs look forward to resolving these last few issues so we can begin construction as soon as possible.”
The plan that added $75 million to the $300 million pricetag of the stadium renovation project also includes: a 30,000-square-foot home clubhouse, second in size only to Yankee Stadium, in a two-level basement under an outdoor plaza; a 200-seat restaurant and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout; and three or four more rows of bleacher seats.
“At my direction, Ald. [Pat] O’Connor was meeting with the rooftop industry as well as the owners of Wrigley for months trying to work through the issue and there are things….he said he had not seen before. So this is not ready for next week and they have work to do,” the mayor said.
“In all the meetings Pat O’Connor had or with Planning, nobody ever saw that [plan to relocate the bullpens]. It was first seen yesterday. That’s why you don’t take something that’s been there for 100 years and just try to rush it in a week…This recent submission is not ready for next week and there won’t be a meeting or a hearing on it [by the Landmarks Commission] because there’s new things that have been submitted.”
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Emanuel would love to break ground on the revenue- and job-creating, $575 million Wrigley project before the Feb. 24 mayoral election. But, that doesn’t mean he’s willing to rush it.
“The investments are…an economic boon to the city, but have to be done in a way that allows the process to work and they don’t try to circumvent or shortchange the process,” he said.
Last week, 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 a long-threatened lawsuit.
On Wednesday, Emanuel refused say whether he believes seven outfield signs are too many or whether he believes the Cubs have gotten greedy.
The mayor did say he views Boston’s Fenway Park as a “model” for the delicate “balance” he is trying to strike at Wrigley.
And he hinted strongly that, even though they Cubs have thrown in the towel on striking a deal with the rooftops, they might want to return to the bargaining table to give it one last shot.
“I wish both parties would get together and resolve the issue because I think it’s in their mutual interest, let along the interest of the city,” the mayor said.
“They spent more than a year at it with each other. I understand the desire for resolution. I think that’s shared by all parties…There’s no doubt that a lot of people put a lot of work and a lot of effort into this. That doesn’t mean that they got it right… I do think there’s a place…to land this where the owners are allowed to modernize Wrigley Field, invest in the surrounding neighborhood in things like parks, playgrounds, traffic, security that have been shortchanged in the past and do it in a way that meets everybody’s objectives.”
Green said the club “tried to reach a resolution with rooftops and unfortunately it didn’t happen. At this point, we are planning to move forward with our original plan which will generate a significant amount of resources — without taxpayer dollars — to help this team win a World Series and give our fans a better ballpark.”
Earlier this week, Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said before forging ahead with the Cubs’ “original” plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it, team officials had explored everything from extending a rooftop revenue-sharing agreement that has nine more years to run to reducing the 17-percent split and even buying out the rooftops. None of those ideas resolved the impasse.
“There’s no animosity. There’s no hard feelings. For you all sometimes you’d like to see this as a big dramatic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It’s none of that. It’s simply a math problem. We need to generate revenue inside the ballpark. We’re financing this ourselves. We’re unlike every team building a new facility,” Kenney said.
“I look at what we can generate from all of these signs and if the options with the rooftops is an improvement above that….then obviously we’ll do the economically rational thing and do that. When that proved to be elusive, we went back to generating revenue on our part of the street….We looked at offers to acquire the businesses as well as to change the percentages. We didn’t get to a place were the math worked.”