The Cubs owners’ request to push back the right field wall at Wrigley Field and build an arch with advertising on it over Clark Street near the iconic ballpark moved a step closer to reality Thursday.
The City Council Zoning Committee recommended approval of changes to renovation plans for the ballpark and development of the surrounding area.
Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, heralded the planned $500 million Ricketts-funded ballpark upgrades, a Clark Street hotel and other projects as “a generational development” for Wrigleyville that will help the bustling area year-round.
“I think with this kind of development in and around Wrigley Field --- combination of the Cubs and other private investment --- I think this is going to be transformational for the city,” said Tunney, who was locked in sometimes antagonistic negotiations with the team and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration for months over the particulars of the plan but has recently thrown his support behind the latest version of the project.
The massive makeover that will change the look of Wrigleyville remains controversial as each new facet winds through City Council, however.
Chester Kropidlowski, chairman of East Lake View Neighbors, spoke out Thursday against the advertising arch, which Tunney agreed to after opposing a proposed pedestrian bridge over Clark with an ad on it that was removed from the team’s plans.
“Instead of ‘Welcome to Lakeview, one of the best places to live,’ it will probably say ‘Drink Pepsi-Cola,’ or ‘Do This,’” Kropidlowski said. “I think that our community is opposed to a sign on our public street that basically advertises things other than ‘come into our community.’”
Along with the arch, the amended plan allows the Cubs to push back the right field wall an additional 10 feet so a deck in the bleachers can be expanded. As a result, Sheffield Avenue east of Wrigley Field will be narrowed from 33 feet to 23 feet and parking eliminated on the east side of the block, which residents of the crowded neighborhood have also criticized as a give-away to the Cubs. The Cubs did not pay for the extension of the ballpark onto the right-of-way, with the city instead agreeing to accept $4.75 million in previously pledged neighborhood investments as compensation.
Aldermen also approved an ordinance Thursday pushed by Emanuel clarifying that the team will be exempt from certain sections of the city code that otherwise could have prohibited them from putting up many advertisements in and around Wrigley that the Ricketts family says are necessary to pay for the proposed $300 million in ballpark construction and $200 million in surrounding development they seek.
Though the City Council already approved an earlier version of the development plan in July, the team has not broken ground on any of the work, as Cubs CEO Tom Ricketts wants a guarantee from rooftop club owners that they won’t sue to prevent large signs from being built in the left field and right field bleachers that will block some of their views.
The Wrigley proposal next heads to the full City Council for consideration.