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Tunney open to hard liquor sales, possibly extended hours on Wrigley plaza

Mayor Lori Lightfoot likes the open-air plaza and hopes to broker a compromise loosening the reins just a bit. Judging from the first round of talks that produced the current rigid rules, negotiations could be contentious.

Fans relax at Gallagher Way, just outside Wrigley Field, before the Cubs’ 2019 home opener in April.
Fans relax at Gallagher Way, just outside Wrigley Field, before the Cubs’ 2019 home opener in April.
Sun-Times file photo

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) on Wednesday proposed extending the life of the open-air plaza adjacent to Wrigley Field and said he’s willing to relax the hard-fought rules to allow the sale of hard liquor on the plaza and, possibly, extend the hours beyond an hour after games end.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she hopes to broker a compromise that would loosen the reins just a bit and give the Cubs more freedom to use the plaza renamed “Gallagher Way” after a lucrative team sponsorship deal.

“I’ve actually been out on that plaza on game day and people seem to enjoy themselves without any untoward consequences. So, it’s certainly my hope that this thing that is certainly a benefit to the community is something that is continued,” Lightfoot told reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

The mayor said she looks forward to the next round of negotiations on plaza rules between Tunney and the billionaire family that owns the Cubs.

“My hope is that he and the Ricketts — and I will be actively involved in those discussions — are able to reach a compromise. … Life is about compromises,” she said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), shown visiting during Wednesday’s City Council meeting with former 16th Ward alderman Shirley Coleman.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), shown visiting during Wednesday’s City Council meeting with former 16th Ward alderman Shirley Coleman, has said he’s willing to relax some of the restrictions that were placed on Gallagher Way when it opened in 2017.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Hard-fought rules governing plaza operations were put in place as a three-year experiment expiring Nov. 30.

On Wednesday, Tunney introduced an ordinance to extend those rules until March 29, giving him time to negotiate new rules going forward that, at the very least, will open the door to the sale of hard liquor as well as beer and wine.

“Instead of just beer, distilled [liquor]. They want Jim Beam. They have corporate sponsors. That’s fine. We’re gonna relax it a little bit,” he said.

“What’s the difference? We’re gonna have cannabis coming soon, too. Someone in our neighborhood says it’s better than the drunks on the streets sometimes. But, they’re all our visitors and residents.”

Tunney wants to “keep the ordinance pretty much intact” for years to come. But, he could be “a little bit flexible” on operating hours.

“Let’s put it this way: The Cubs do not want restrictions on anything. You deal with that, then you try to do what’s best for the community,” the alderman said.

“We’re still considering post-game-day, after-hours. I’m working with the chamber and other groups to see whether or not they would extend it longer than an hour after the game. … I could be a little bit flexible.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks to reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“I’ve actually been out on that plaza on game day and people seem to enjoy themselves without any untoward consequences,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, in discussing whether rules governing Gallagher Way, an open-air plaza next to Wrigley Field, could be relaxed.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Tunney drew the line on additional concerts on the plaza, arguing the real problem is “amplified sound” and Wrigleyville residents already have their hands and ears full with “100 activities inside the ballpark.”

The alderman also put his foot down about expanding the universe of fans granted admission to the plaza beyond those with game-day tickets.

“Some of the requests — non-ticketed people on the plaza — ain’t happening from a public safety point of view, first and foremost,” he said.

“Police are like, ‘We’ve got enough problems dealing with the 41,000 that are there at the stadium alone.’ The whole idea is to get these people in and out and also to patronize some of the other businesses, including their businesses. I want them dispersed. We need to get the police back hovering the entire neighborhood.”

Cubs spokesman Julian Green argued the open-air plaza has “surpassed even the alderman’s expectations” by bringing “year-round, family-friendly entertainment” to Wrigleyville.

”We have demonstrated we are great stewards of this asset and look forward to working with the Mayor and Alderman Tunney on an agreement which will allow us to attract first-rate events and activities,” Green was quoted as saying in a statement.

If the second round of plaza negotiations is anything like the first, it could be a donnybrook, especially considering historic tensions between Tunney and the Cubs ownership that tried to defeat him.

Three years ago, the Cubs won the limited right to sell beer and wine on the plaza — but in a way that, team officials claimed, tied the hands of the Ricketts family into a pretzel.

The rules gave Tunney many of the safeguards he wanted to prevent the plaza from turning into what Wrigleyville residents had called the “Midwest’s largest beer garden.”

Liquor sales were limited to beer and wine; sales begin two hours before the game and ending one hour after. Those drinks could only be sold during “stadium events” such as games and concerts, and at up to 12 other special events per year, each requiring its own special permit.

The Cubs called it a “bizarre set of parameters” that prevented the team from “operating the plaza as an asset that’s accessible to the entire community.”

“On game-days, it forces [the Ricketts family] to build a wall to keep out non-ticket holders, including Chicago residents and tourists who want to enjoy the game-day experience around Wrigley Field,” the team said then.

“It limits the number of events and jeopardizes watch parties during the playoffs which are commonplace at stadiums across the country. Finally, it raises legal questions as to whether it violates a 2013 agreement with the City regulating concerts at Wrigley Field.”

Official ribbon-cutting for The Park At Wrigley, which opened in 2017. It has since been renamed Gallagher Way.
Official ribbon-cutting for The Park At Wrigley, which opened in 2017. It has since been renamed Gallagher Way.
Sun-Times file photo