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Wrigley plaza rules extended to give Cubs, Tunney time to figure out how to relax them

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has said he’s open to allowing liquor sales on the plaza and letting the plaza stay open longer than one hour after Cubs games.

Cubs fans gather at Gallagher Way before the home opener.
Ald. Tom Tunney and the Chicago Cubs organization are working to ease some operating rules for Gallagher Way.
Sun-Times file photo

Hard-fought rules restricting operating hours and access to the open-air plaza adjacent to Wrigley Field will remain in place until March 29 to give the Cubs and the local alderman time to figure out how to move the foul poles.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said Wednesday he’s still open to allowing liquor sales on the plaza and is willing to discuss allowing the plaza to stay open longer than one hour after Cubs games end.

“We’re working with the Cubs. Hopefully we’ll have something [to introduce] at the next Council meeting,” Tunney said.

Asked why he’s willing to let the Cubs sell liquor on the plaza as well as beer and wine, he said, “Alcohol is alcohol. They have some sponsorship opportunities. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t think the community has a problem with that.”

But Tunney branded as a “non-starter” the Cubs’ long-standing hopes of allowing fans without game day tickets onto the plaza.

“It’s a concern about the extra 4,000, which is the occupancy, plus 41,000, police control, control of the street, getting people in and out,” he said.

“Honestly, the period we’ve been doing this has worked out pretty well for the community and for the Cubs.”

Pressed on what changes he’s willing to make beyond hard liquor sales, Tunney said, “There’s some ambiguity as to what is a special event. We’re gonna really try to flush that out so there’s very little question.”

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

On Wednesday, the City Council’s License Committee agreed to extend those rules until March 29 to give Tunney and the Cubs organization — which tried mightily to defeat him — time to negotiate the changes.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has 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, which was renamed “Gallagher Way” after a lucrative team sponsorship deal.

Lightfoot told reporters last month that she’s been “out on that plaza on game day and people seem to enjoy themselves without any untoward consequences.”

The mayor has called the plaza a “benefit to the community” that should be continued under more liberal rules because “life is about compromises” — in spite of the contentious history between Tunney and the Cubs.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green has said 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 said in a written statement.

If the second round of plaza negotiations is anything like the first, it could be a donnybrook.

The rules brokered by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel 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.”

Alcohol sales were limited to beer and wine; sales begin two hours before the game and end 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.”