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Thursday, July 10, 2014
More Wrigley changes approved

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- In a passionate objection to the Chicago Cubs' restructured plan to adjust their landmark protection of Wrigley Field, alderman Tom Tunney accurately described the situation in his opening remarks.

"To quote the baseball great Yogi Berra, 'It's deja vu all over again,'" Tunney said in an 18-minute speech.

He's not wrong.

One year after the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved a massive renovation of the stadium, the Cubs were back in city hall to get approval for a revised plan that would include more outfield signage in the wake of a long-standing dispute with owners of rooftop clubs.

After some alterations and back-and-forth discussions, the commission again unanimously approved the Cubs' most recent changes to their plans to renovate the 100-year-old park, most notably allowing them to add five more outfield signs in addition to the two already approved by the mayoral-appointed landmarks watchdogs last year.

The renovation of Wrigley Field is slated to cost more than $375 million, with an additional $200 million in other construction projects.

"We're on the precipice of beginning a historic restoration and expansion of Wrigley Field," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said.

While Kenney said the team will begin the renovation process "immediately" after approval of the plan, those extra signs aren't guaranteed to be up at all.

The Cubs have promised Mayor Rahm Emanuel they will continue to negotiate with the rooftop owners to avoid litigation. The rooftop owners' group recently committed to dropping legal threats regarding the remaining 10 years on a 20-year contract if the Cubs go back to the two previously approved signs: a left-field video board and a right-field script sign.

When the Cubs won landmark approval for a plan to renovate Wrigley Field and its surrounding campus last summer, they vowed not to start until the rooftop owners agreed not to sue them over disputed violations about a contractual view of the ballpark.

The Cubs kept their word and did almost nothing construction-wise, aside from building a "clubhouse" for their new mascot, Clark.

The team got approval on a modified plan in December, and then in late May, they released new plans that included the additional outfield signs, essentially inviting the rooftop owners to acquiesce or sue.

Displeased with communication over new additions to the plan, Emanuel rejected the Cubs from appealing to the landmark committee in June. The Cubs altered the plans and were allowed to proceed in July.

The committee approved several new additions, such as a renovated West Gate, a new batter's eye in center and five more luxury suites.

Most importantly, they added 650-square-foot-size limits on any static outfield signs, with a minimum of 20 feet between outfield signs and 65 feet on either side of the centerfield scoreboard. Every sign has to be 8 feet above the top row of the bleachers to keep the landmark-protected "sweep and contour" of the outfield.

The Cubs plan to add two free-standing light standards in left and right field to improve outfield lighting. Lights were initially slated to be added onto the left-field video board, but that plan was changed.

That left-field video board will be smaller than the previously approved size, down from 4,560 square feet to 3,990 square feet, to be more streamlined with the center-field scoreboard and the possible right-field video board.

Under the new plan, the bullpens will be moved under the bleachers. Relievers will be able to see the field through a chain-link fence, replacing the current outfield doors.

The Cubs got approval to add more seating to where the bullpens are currently located along foul territory.

The committee made rulings that the new bleacher rows won't go past the lowest row of the current center-field bleachers, and that "any further bleacher expansion could be detrimental to the uninterrupted sweep and contour of the bleachers."

The rooftop owners' lawyer, Tom Moore, argued that the committee was ignoring the meaning of the landmark-approved "uninterrupted sweep and contour of the bleachers" and that the new rows of bleachers, let alone the signs, would put his "clients out of business."

"The rooftop owners oppose the plan brought by the Ricketts family the Landmarks Commission approved today," Wrigleyville Rooftops Association spokesman Ryan McLaughlin said in a statement. "If these signs were to be erected, the blockage would absolutely violate our 20-year contract, just as they violate the spirit of Wrigley's long-standing landmark status. However, we're optimistic that Mayor Emanuel's directive to the Ricketts family to work out a compromise with rooftop owners could create a breakthrough.

"In fact, every rooftop owner supports a plan that's currently on the table resulting in two signs that mitigate blockage, generates revenue to modernize Wrigley Field and takes litigation off the table. We look forward to sitting down with Crane Kenney and Tom Ricketts immediately and engaging in good faith negotiations. We see a path for a win-win solution, and our intention is to report a global solution very quickly."

Regardless, Kenney said the bleachers will be the first major project to start this offseason, while the Cubs plan to start digging in a parking lot abutting Wrigley to build a new clubhouse as early as August.

The committee declared that any new outfield signs, aside from two video boards, can only be neon or script signage. Outfield billboards are prohibited, and the signs cannot be backlit toward the streets.

"I know it's been quite a process for the [Cubs'] owner and quite a process for our staff, as well," director of Chicago Landmarks and Preservations Eleanor Gorski said. "But after all of this discussion, I feel we've reached a good product."

Tunney, and many citizens who showed up to speak, disagreed. Tunney asked for the approval to be shelved for more community interaction over the plan. He said the new signs would disturb people living close to the park. Others worried about more than human neighbors.

One man, David Duggan, even asked for the state department to possibly look into the new LED lights because it might interfere with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Duggan said the lights would harm migratory bird behavior along the Mississippi Flyway in mid-October if the Cubs wind up playing in the postseason again.

"I'm here to speak for the birds," Duggan said.