By Ameet Sachdev and John Byrne
11:38 PM CDT, April 10, 2013
Late last week, Ald. Thomas Tunney indicated he was optimistic the framework of a deal between City Hall and the Ricketts family to renovate Wrigley Field would be announced by Monday's home opener.
On Wednesday, Wrigleyville's alderman found himself trying to explain why an agreement remains elusive. Tunney suggested the number of night games has re-emerged as a sticking point, joining issues like parking, advertising signs, and the size and placement of a large video screen.
Talks involve complicated, competing interests: owners of the rooftop clubs who oppose signage in the stadium, the team wanting more freedom from the city, and residents concerned that more night games would increase congestion and parking problems in the neighborhood. Also at play is the pressure being applied by a pair of heavy hitters — Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants a comprehensive deal reached soon, and Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has set a couple of his own deadlines.
Last Friday, Ricketts was down in Florida at actor Bill Murray's charity golf tournament. With City Hall hopeful a deal could reached, Ricketts returned to negotiations over the weekend. Monday came and went with no deal announced. To add to the oddity surrounding talks, on Wednesday, a goat's head was delivered to the ballpark, addressed to Ricketts, a team spokesman said.
Facing a swarm of reporters inside City Council chambers Wednesday, Tunney said a compromise has been hard to reach because the team's demands keep changing. A Cubs spokesman said that's not the case.
The 44th Ward alderman said he thought there was an agreement last week for additional night games, but the team changed its request Tuesday night at a community meeting that was closed to the media.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said the city had agreed to increase the number of night games from 30 to 40, plus allow the team to host as many as four concerts, for a total of 44 "night events." But at Tuesday night's meeting, according to the sources, Cubs officials asked for flexibility on a limit of 44 night events to accommodate changes to the schedule requested by Major League Baseball and its television broadcast partners.
Cubs officials told residents that MLB could switch as many as 11 games and they don't want those games to count against the limit, the sources said.
Cubs spokesman Julian Green denied that the team was backing off a previously agreed upon adjustment to night games. "There was consensus building toward 40 to 44 night games, but flexibility around additional night games is not new," Green said.
Ricketts has said the family would be willing to pay for the entire $300 million renovation project — dropping his request for taxpayer dollars — if the city would agree to additional night games and signs, including a video scoreboard.
In exchange for more night games, Tunney would like the Cubs to add more parking and security in the neighborhood. But some residents Tuesday night voiced their opposition to a plan floated last week that would call for the Cubs to build a parking garage at a gravel parking lot it owns near Clark and Grace streets.
Regarding signage, the alderman and the Emanuel administration have conceptually agreed to the team's request to put up a large video scoreboard in left field and a second sign in right field. Tunney has agreed to the signs despite objections from rooftop club owners surrounding Wrigley who worry that the signs would block their views and force them out of business.
But there is still disagreement over placement of the signs so they block as little of the rooftop views as possible, sources said. One idea that has been discussed is moving back the exterior wall of the left field bleachers by several feet to minimize the impact of the video screen on the rooftops, Green said. That would affect the sidewalk and street on Waveland Avenue.
"We're going to continue to work around the clock," Tunney said. "We've got to make sure we know what each side is agreeing to before we move forward."
Countered Green: "Our talks have always included MLB flexibility with night games, a video screen and signage. Any changes that have been discussed have dealt with trying to accommodate the rooftop owners and strike a balance with the community on night games."
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