Addison: Zoning Committee Approves Wrigley Renovations
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) addresses the Landmarks Commission.
By Joe Ruppel
The Red Line Project
Updated: Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Originally posted: Friday, July 12, 2013
Editor's note: The Wrigley Field renovations cleared one more hurdle Tuesday when the Zoning Committee voted unanimously to approve the ballpark changes, which could start this fall. The biggest change was a last-minute agreement between the city and the Cubs to eliminate a pedestrian bridge across Clark Street from a hotel to the ballpark. The $500 million plan now faces a City Council vote, which could come as early as Wednesday.
Last week, the City Plan Commission approved Wrigley Field's renovation plan, less than a week after the city Landmarks Commission approved a Jumbotron and outfield signage at the ballpark.
Landmarks Commission Approves Plan
After a lengthy day of debate on Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved plans to install a Jumbotron and advertising signage in Wrigley Field to help pay for the upcoming $500 million restoration of the ballpark and development in the Wrigleyville neighborhood.
Late in the afternoon, as the meeting dragged into extra innings, some at the meeting speculated that the deal might strike out. However, the plan eventually passed 6-0 after more than five hours of deliberation that hinged on what the Cubs could install outside the planned signs without coming before the commission again. The vote included a "master sign program" that will stand for 20 years.
A statement issued after the meeting by the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association denounced the decision as “wholly inconsistent” with the commission’s mission of preserving and protecting historic Chicago landmarks.
“Today’s decision is a blow to anyone who cares deeply for the historic and special nature of Wrigley Field,” Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, said in the statement.
The agreed-upon signs included a 4,650-square-foot Jumbotron that will be placed in left field topped with a neon script sign and lights, and a 650-square-foot “see through” sign to be placed in right field. The dimensions of the signs were negotiated down from 6,000 square feet for the Jumbotron and 1,000 square feet for the right field sign, the exact use of which has yet to be determined.
What the videoboard and signage could look like inside Wrigley Field.
The commission’s approval was needed to install the signs and continue the privately funded restoration as elements of Wrigley Field, including the outfield ivy and sweep, are protected by landmark status under the 2004 Landmark Ordinance. To meet the ordinance’s requirements, the outfield signs will be raised above the bleachers to protect the sweep, the ivy will remain untouched, and despite being eclipsed in size by the Jumbotron, the historic Wrigley scoreboard will remain the outfield’s most prominent feature.
Amid fierce criticism during the meeting that the new signs would turn the iconic, 99-year-old ballpark into Times Square, Mike Lufrano, vice president of community affairs for the Cubs, said, “No one has a greater incentive to preserve Wrigley Field than its ownership.”
Lufrano called the Jumbotron and signs a “critical part of the restoration project” that will keep the team competitive into the future.
The Cubs hope the new signs will help foot the bill, without a public subsidy, for more popular renovations, including improved facilities, a hotel, and a new Captain Morgan Club lounge.
“I cannot support a proposal that so dramatically affects the quality of life for my residents,” said an emotional Tunney, pointing to the Jumbotron’s 12-foot thickness and 30-foot proximity to Wrigleyville residences.
“The beauty of this setting is the integration of the field within our neighborhood.”
Tunney also wants taxpayers compensated for the expansion of Wrigley Field’s walls, which will take out a lane of traffic on Waveland Avenue and a sidewalk on Sheffield Avenue.
Wrigleyville rooftop owners opposed the new signs because they will block some of the views of the ballpark from bleachers atop buildings outside the field. The owners argued that this violates the 2004 Landmark Ordinance, which cites “the unenclosed, open-air character” as a preserved feature.
Murphy said “I do not know how a Jumbotron is consistent with landmark status.”
George Loukas, a Wrigleyville resident since 1974 and a rooftop owner, said he trusted the city and the team when he was forced to invest millions of dollars to improve his property. Now, he said he faces the possibility of bankruptcy if the signs interrupt his ability to make good on his investments.
“How are we supposed to pay our mortgages?” he asked.
Loukas’ concern represents those of rooftop owners neighboring Wrigley Field who had collectively invested $50 million to upgrade their facilities as part of a 20-year contract with the Cubs. As part of the 2004 Landmark Ordinance, the owners were asked to protect the view out of the ballpark, and for the owners, it now seems that the city won’t return the favor and protect the view into the field.
In January, the Wrigley Rooftops Association extended a deal to the Cubs that would install advertising signs on top of neighboring rooftops and allow the team to keep 100 percent of the revenue. The deal was shot down by the team, who didn’t find realistic the association’s estimate of $17.9 million of annual revenue generated by the signs.
At times during the dozens of public comments at the meeting, the debate pushed back and forth between a call for modernity and a love of antiquity. Just as one fan shared his desire to show his son the same field his grandfather had introduced to him, another fan lamented the lack of modern amenities like a digital scoreboard for in-game statistics and lineups. All of those concerns had been shared at public meetings in the last several months about the ballpark changes.
The Wrigleyville Rooftops Association was mum on whether legal action would be taken to uphold their interpretation of the landmark ordinance.
However, Beth Murphy said she was confident that
the symbiotic relationship between the Cubs and Wrigleyville, that has made the
team and neighborhood unique in the world of sports, would remain intact and
The Cubs had this zoning notice posted outside the right field bleachers on June 28.