Baseball / Sports

Cubs agree to mayor's Wrigley Field renovation conditions

The Chicago Cubs agreed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's requested conditions in order to present its latest renovation proposal Thursday to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, including reducing the size of signs along exterior outfield walls and to continue negotiating with rooftop owners who have said the signs will hurt their businesses, according to a City Hall source.

The source said the team "agreed to make 10 changes that preserve the historical significance of Wrigley Field and are mindful of neighbors of Wrigleyville."

The changes requested by the city include reducing the size of the signs along the exterior outfield walls and increase spacing between them, as well as eliminating plans for sliding concession windows for the exterior brick wall. The team also agreed to drop enlarged openings in the outfield brick wall for new bullpens, a change the team previously announced.

The source added that the team agreed to make changes to lighting to address concerns and to continue conversations with the rooftop owners to settle their differences in a timely manner. Other changes are expected to be presented Thursday.

A major obstacle for approval could be the team's proposal for seven signs – not merely a video board in right field and a script sign in left field, which were the approved signs from a year ago – to dot the walls. The seven signs would seemingly block views into the ballparks from nearly all of the three-story rooftop businesses, potentially violating a decade-old contract and thrusting the two sides into a courtroom.

Landmarks Commission must review the plan because of the 2004 Wrigley landmark ordinance, which states that the "uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers" is a protected historic feature of the ballpark.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team had resolved any outstanding issues with the commission several weeks ago and is prepared to make its presentation to the commission.

"If we gain this final approval, we are prepared to invest $575 million to restore and expand Wrigley Field and develop the surrounding area immediately," he said. "And given this project will move forward without taxpayer dollars, we are focused on creating every advantage possible to innovate, operate efficiently and grow our business faster than the other 29 clubs trying to compete for a World Series trophy every year."

The team returns to Landmarks after the team received the nod last year for a $500 million plan that included a 5,700-square-foot video board in left field and a 650-square-foot sign on the opposite side. The package included a complete renovation of the 100-year-old ballpark, as well as a nearby hotel, plaza and office-retail complex.

The team then began negotiating with the rooftop owners. But in May, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts declared the talks were fruitless and his team unveiled a $575 million blueprint for the 100-year-old stadium that was dramatically different than last year.

In addition to the video board and script sign that was already approved, the plan called for five more signs in the outfield plus other changes to the ballpark. There would also be more outfield lighting, a bigger expansion of the player clubhouse beneath the plaza outside the ballpark and slight inward moves of the outfield walls lining the foul lines, with the quaint outfield bullpens being moved beneath the bleachers.

In going for the bigger plan, Ricketts had decided that if he was going to be sued, he might as well ask for everything he wanted in the first place, City Hall sources said. The Cubs always planned to seek a total of seven signs after the revenue sharing agreement with the rooftop owners expired at the end of 2023, sources said.

But in the seven weeks since then, the Cubs have continued to face opposition.

When Emanuel said he was taken off guard by a proposal to widen outfield doors in the ivy-clad outfield walls beneath the bleachers -- so players could peek onto the field – the proposal was removed from the plan. But not before a June presentation to Landmarks was postponed.

Then, last week, rooftop owners said that as a group they agreed not to sue the team if it sticks to last year's plan to install a video board and one advertising sign in the outfield.

"Rooftop owners agree with Mayor Emanuel that a compromise is best for the fans, the neighborhood, the city and the Cubs. We're hoping now it's finally time for a breakthrough," Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said in a statement.

For all the proposed changes to the historic stadium, none has caused more controversy than the potential impact on the owners of the 15 businesses that sell tickets for their bird's-eye views into the stadium. The Cubs sued the rooftop owners in 2002, alleging copyright infringement and arguing that the rooftops "unjustly enrich themselves to the tune of millions of dollars each year."

The sides settled in 2004 in which rooftop owners would pay the team 17 percent of their revenues for 20 years. The team typically receives $3 million to $4 million annually, an attorney who represents the rooftops has told the Tribune.

That contract -- hammered out by Tribune Co., parent of the Chicago Tribune, when it owned the team -- has become central to the dispute and a document each side interprets differently. The rooftop owners believe that it prohibits the Cubs from putting up anything that could obstruct views of the field from the venues. But the current Cubs owners believe it allows the team to expand or renovate the stadium as long as it receives a public agency blessing.

The Ricketts family, which bought the team in 2009, would like to preserve the historic stadium for future generations of Cubs fans and plans to fund the construction with its own money – not special subsidies often seen in stadium deals.

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