There’s nothing a Chicago mayor with dismal poll numbers likes more heading into a potentially difficult re-election campaign than a groundbreaking ceremony for a $575 million project that creates 2,100 jobs.
That’s apparently why Mayor Rahm Emanuel is gung-ho about the Cubs’ plan to start renovating Wrigley Field and developing the land around it, even before a pending lawsuit filed by rooftop club owners is decided. Last week, the Cubs applied for a permit to expand the Wrigley bleachers.
“They are going to start construction at Wrigley Field, the modernization, but also at the school playground in making their investment and living up to the commitment they made at the table to the entire package, both for Wrigley Field and the neighborhood of Wrigleyville,” the mayor said.
“I believe we’ve worked outwhat I think is a win-win strategy for both Wrigley Field —to modernize it, create economic opportunity — and also for Wrigleyville. Prior to the agreement, there was no transportation plan. No overall security plan. No investments in the neighborhood. The alderman was a strong advocate for that. So, they’re going forward based on a comprehensive plan.”
Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team is not about to wait for a judge to rule on a lawsuit filed against the city last month by eight rooftop club owners who share 17 percent of their revenues with the team.
That lawsuit seeks to overturn the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ decision to approve the Cubs’ revised stadium renovation plan —including seven outfield signs, two of them video scoreboards, and new seating.
“For the last several years, we’ve had the threat of litigation hanging over our heads. We believe the economic return and the jobs this project will provide outweighs the threat of a lawsuit. That’s why we’re getting started. Our fans and players have waited long enough,” Green said.
In late May, the Cubs declared an impasse with rooftop club owners after months of nowhere negotiations and unveiled a revised plan that literally invitedtheir revenue-sharing partners to sue.
The plan called for seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards, 300 new seats, 300 standing-room positions and new outfield light standards 92 feet high.
The plan that added $75 million to the $300 million price tag of the stadium renovation project also included: a 30,000-square-foot home clubhouse in a two-level basement beneath an outdoor plaza; a 200-seat restaurant and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout;and three or four rows of additional bleacher seats.
Some of the new seats would have been created by relocating the home and visiting bullpens from foul territory to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers. To give relief pitchers a view of the field,larger bullpen doors that would have disturbed the century-old stadium’s ivy-covered brick walls were part of theplan.
That blindsided and infuriated 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 the Landmarks Commission agenda and forcing the Cubs to drop plans todouble the width of the bullpen doors. The team’s plan to move the left-and right-field walls near the existing bullpens to create more seating remains intact.
The city is now in the process of relocating water and sewer lines outside Wrigley in preparation for the bleacher expansion. The underground infrastructure needs to be shifted because, what was once city land is now “Cubs property,” Green said.
“The video board will be up in 2015 — the big one approved [in left-field]. So will the Budweiser sign in right,” Green said.
“We just got [the five additional] signs approved this summer. As the summer comes to a close, we’ll be in the marketplace talking to potential and existing sponsors. If there are sponsors who want to purchase those assets, we’ll put them up as quickly as possible.”
Rooftop club owners had no comment on plans for an October groundbreaking.
In their lawsuit, club owners claim the revenue-sharing agreement gives them a “legally protected interest in their views of Wrigley Field.” They also accuse the team of using strong-arm tactics by attempting to coerce them into selling their businesses.