By Ameet Sachdev and Hal Dardick
7:30 AM CDT, April 5, 2013
Wrigleyville’s alderman expressed optimism Thursday that several key issues surrounding the costly renovation of the aging ballpark could be resolved by the Cubs’ home opener on Monday, but the dispute over signs outside Wrigley Field remains sticky.
“Can we come to an agreement on additional police, remote parking, additional parking in the neighborhood, community infrastructure improvements, and more night games? Yes, I think we can get there before (Monday),” Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, told the Tribune editorial board after requesting an impromptu afternoon meeting.
For the first time, the alderman publicly said he has agreed to allow the team to put up a large video scoreboard in left field despite the objections of rooftop club owners surrounding the stadium. But he cautioned that the size still is being worked out. Tunney also said there’s agreement on another sign in right field.
“We believe there will be signage in the stadium and around the stadium but there are still moving parts on this one, especially outside the ballpark,” said Tunney, who indicated the two sides are not as close on signs on a proposed plaza and hotel outside Wrigley.
The Cubs declined to discuss specifics of the talks. Dennis Culloton, spokesman for the Ricketts family that owns the Cubs, reiterated the family’s desire for a comprehensive agreement that addresses its request for relief from city regulations that limit the number of night games and signage and thus restrict team revenues.
“The mayor, his staff, Ald. Tunney and the Ricketts family are all working very hard to bring this to a successful conclusion to do something great for the neighborhood, for Wrigley Field and for the city, but were not quite there yet,” Culloton said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration declined comment. One City Hall source familiar with the talks said there was “no magic” about making an announcement in time for Monday’s home opener. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had declared a deadline of last Monday that came and went as talks continued.
Tunney has become more vocal in the past few days about the status of negotiations as he’s been portrayed in some quarters as impeding the Ricketts family’s plans to spend $300 million in much needed renovations to modernize the 99-year-old ballpark. The family also said it would spend another $200 million redeveloping land it owns around the ballpark into a hotel and office building if the city gives it more freedom to operate the ballpark as it wishes.
Throughout negotiations, Tunney has been accused of being beholden to the 16 rooftop owners because of the tens of thousands of dollars they’ve contributed to his campaigns. The rooftop owners oppose any additional signage behind the bleachers because they potentially could obstruct their bird’s-eye views and force them out of business.
Tunney also faces pressure from residents in his ward who don’t want their voices drowned out by the bigger economic interests. They worry that additional night games and other night-time events the Cubs seek would affect public safety and congestion in the neighborhood and potentially hurt local businesses.
On Thursday, the alderman said his top priorities in the negotiations are the need for additional remote and neighborhood parking and more security after games. Those are the same neighborhood concerns that have been around since before the Ricketts family bought the team in 2009 from Tribune Co., parent of the Chicago Tribune. Tribune Co. retains a 5 percent interest in the team.
Tunney said the Cubs are committed to finding more parking in the neighborhood, and discussions have focused on the team building a two-level parking garage on a gravel lot it owns near Clark and Grace streets. A second level could add 400 to 500 parking spaces, Tunney said.
The alderman also said it would be the Cubs’ responsibility to pay for additional security around the ballpark, not Chicago taxpayers.
If the Cubs agree to mitigate the impacts of the renovation project, Tunney said he would support lifting the 30-game-per-season limit on night games. He said the interested parties are studying a recommendation by a community group for seven more night games plus additional concerts. Tunney said he also could agree to allow the Cubs to once again start several Friday afternoon games at 3:05 p.m. instead of 1:20 p.m.
“I want the things that I’m fighting for to make sure that my community knows I’m working hard on this,” Tunney said.. “I think we’re being strategic about it. And I think we can get the Cubs to commit to being in Wrigley Field for the next hundred years — very important to me, to the city and our community.”
While the size and exact location in left field of a Jumbotron-like screen have not been resolved, it will block some of the rooftop views, Tunney said. He also said any dispute between the rooftop owners and the team would have to be resolved privately.
“That agreement with rooftop and the cubs is a private deal,” Tunney said “They’ve got to work this out with themselves.”
But he wants the public to have input on the Ricketts family’s plan to place advertising signage outside the ballpark as well as its hotel and office building proposals.
“All of this has to go through the community process,” Tunney said. “What I want is for the community to have a say.”
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