City Council approves more Wrigley Field renovation changes

Fans outside Wrigley Field before a Cubs-Brewers game this summer. (Phil Velasquez Chicago Tribune)

The Chicago City Council today approved measures to give the Cubs more flexibility on scheduling night games, an advertising archway over Clark Street and permission to push back the exterior outfield walls at Wrigley Field as part of the team’s planned $300 million renovation of the iconic-but-aging ballpark.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney suggested it's time for the team to start construction after the city signed off in July and again in December on the ballpark plan.

The Cubs, however, are still engaged in talks with rooftop club owners to try to avert a lawsuit if the renovation blocks views into the ballpark. The team has indicated its reluctance to start construction only to see it tied up in the courts for years.

As part of the latest tweaks, Wrigley's right field wall would be moved back 15 feet, narrowing Sheffield Avenue, and the left field wall would be pushed out 16 feet, narrowing Waveland Avenue. Parking would be taken out on both streets, eliminating about 58 spaces, but each street would maintain two-way traffic.

The team says that moving the walls back will reduce blockage of sight lines from rooftop clubs that profit from their views into the ballpark. The measure also would allow the Cubs to expand the decks at the rear of the bleachers, where they sell beer and food.

It’s all part of the overall Wrigley renovation plan, which includes an additional $200 million to build a nearby hotel, plaza and office-retail complex. Work has yet to start while the team continues to negotiate with rooftop club owners who have threatened to sue if their views are blocked by a large video board planned for left field and a script advertising sign planned for right.

Aldermen approved the changes despite the objections of local residents and concerns expressed by two aldermen that the city might not be getting enough in return.

At one point in the lengthy renovation negotiations between the Cubs and Mayor Emanuel’s administration, city officials said the Cubs would have to pay for taking part of each street. But the city now has agreed to accept as compensation already pledged team payments of $3.75 million over 10 years into the so-called Cub Fund for Wrigleyville street lights, signs and repaving in Wrigleyville and surrounding areas.

The Cubs appraised the value of the land they are getting at $3.75 million, plus $250,000 for “air rights” to expand the decks behind the bleachers. The extra $250,000 is coming in the form of other compensation, like free city public service ads on the Jumbotron-like sign the Cubs plan to put up in left field, said Cubs Vice President Michael Lufrano.

On Tuesday, Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, faulted city officials for not doing their own appraisal and instead taking the Cubs-funded version as gospel.

“I’m quite taken aback that we did not have an appraiser,” Fioretti said. “I want to make sure that when we have compensation, it’s fair and just.”

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, also questioned the amount, saying that giving up the public land to the Cubs “is tantamount to a subsidy.”

Asked if the street deal amounted to a subsidy, Lufrano said: “I don’t see it that way. I think we’re paying $3.75 million for the land that’s being vacated.”

Ald. Timothy Cullerton, 38th, said the city was getting a good deal. “The Cubs organization is an economic engine for the city of Chicago,” he said. “I know there are communities that would gladly give this land to the Cubs.”

“As far as the residents that live on Sheffield and Waveland, I think they were aware that there was a ballpark there when the moved in there,” Cullerton added. “It brings jobs, it brings funds to the city of Chicago. If we didn’t have Wrigley Field, if we didn’t have the Cubs organization here, the property that we are talking about would be worth nothing.”

Ald. Tunney, 44th, who took part in negotiations involving the team and Emanuel administration, said the $3.75 million was part of a “very much negotiated plan to keep the Cubs in Chicago . . . without major public subsidies.”

To compensate for lost parking on Waveland and Sheffield, the team is offering free parking in its lot on Seminary Street to local residents on “every non-Cub event day,” he added, with another lot on Racine Avenue and Grace Street with parking for days when there are games, concerts or other events at Wrigley.

“This type of economic development — hospitality, tourism and entertainment — as you all know, has been one of the growth engines of our city,” Tunney said. “I think it’s good for the city. It’s certainly good for the neighborhood.”

But Chester Kropidlowski, chairman of the East Lake View Neighbors organization, didn’t see it that way.

“I want to voice my concern about what is happening to Sheffield Avenue and Waveland Avenue,” Kropidlowski said. “There has been no inclusive process by which decisions were made to give away our streets to the Cubs.

“We are going to be losing parking on streets, or the normal use of two streets, for 365 days a year to benefit the Cubs some 80-plus days a year, so they will be able to make money. . . . Our community feels the process and resulting product is an insult to the residents of the East Lakeview community.”