Wrigley Renovations: Jumbotron Approved, Tunney Still Unhappy

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

The 44th Ward alderman is still upset about some of the deal that was approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks Thursday, moving the process of Wrigley Field renovations forward.

As you no doubt heard Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the Cubs' proposal to put a large video screen in left field and a smaller, fixed, "see-through" sign in right field (similar to the current Toyota sign, which will be removed for the video board).

You can read all the details in this Tribune article (which also includes a cool "motion graphic"). Here are the key points approved Thursday:

Thursday's 6-0 approval of the two structures by the Landmarks Commission, which must sign off on alterations to the historically protected features of the 99-year-old ballpark, now clears the way for the Plan Commission and City Council to consider the team's full $500 million plan to not only renovate Wrigley Field, but also redevelop surrounding land in the Wrigleyville neighborhood with a hotel and an office-retail complex.

The 5,700-square-foot Jumbotron-like screen to be placed atop the rear wall of left field will be nearly three times the size of Wrigley's famous old-fashioned scoreboard in center field. With a horizontal script sign on top and new night lights, it would be 60 feet tall and 95 feet wide. The three-panel video screen itself would be 95 feet wide and 48 feet tall.

The video board will spell the end of the vertical Toyota script sign in left field, but the commission approved a new script advertising sign for right field that would be about 80 percent larger than the old one.

As I expected, the Cubs' original plan for a 6,000-square-foot video board (which would have been larger with the structure around it) has been scaled down. 5,700 square feet includes the entire structure; the video portion will be about 4,500 square feet. I figured the Cubs were asking for more than they thought they could get, and this is probably what they originally wanted. This is the way you make compromises; don't ask for what you want, ask for more, and settle for "less".

The top of the board, according to other reports via Twitter Thursday, will not be higher than the existing scoreboard, and the bottom will be 10 feet above the existing bleachers. I think within a few years, people will wonder what all the fuss was about, just as happened 25 years ago when lights were installed. I lived through that; many of you probably did, too. For those of you too young to remember that controversy, much of it was even more heated than this one is. Does anyone seriously begrudge the Cubs night games now? Except, maybe for 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney? Oh, and Tunney was at it again:

"Although I understand and appreciate the Cubs' need to monetize the proposed improvements and that the plan comes with an enormous price tag, I can't support a proposal that so dramatically affects the quality of life of the residents," Tunney testified.

"The Cubs often point to large signs at Fenway (Park in Boston), at U.S. Cellular and other (stadiums)," Tunney added. "Those signs back up to expressways, not other people's living rooms."

Alderman, with all due respect, shut up. You've done your job, to an extent, now it's time to move on. The video board isn't going to be blazing into "people's living rooms"! It's going to be facing Wrigley Field -- just as the lights do, although the lights do shine into people's living rooms, until they are turned off. All that's going to face people's homes is the back of the board. You really think that's going to affect "quality of life"? To that I say, "get a life, Alderman."

Finally, the rooftop owners are at it again. The boards were scaled down after mockups were placed to show the effects they might have on rooftop businesses. The smaller sizes should mean that virtually no views will be blocked. Yet, the rooftop owners released another aggressively-worded statement Thursday evening from Beth Murphy. I reproduce it here in its entirety:

"Today's decision is a blow to anyone who cares deeply for the historic and special nature of Wrigley Field. We, like many residents of the Lakeview community, feel blindsided by the total disregard of the commissioners who ignored years of careful work that went into crafting the 2004 Landmark Ordinance and the corresponding contractual agreement between the Chicago Cubs and the rooftops. We want to see a modernized Wrigley Field, but throughout this process, the affected small business owners have been shut out to create a more favorable deal for a billionaire family."

"In January, rooftop owners proposed a solution that would preserve the feel of Wrigley Field, provide the Ricketts family revenue needed to modernize the ball park while keeping rooftops in business. Unfortunately, the Ricketts family muscled through a plan today that adversely impacts Wrigley Field and the surrounding business and homes. As small business owners who have spent more than 30 years and tens of millions of dollars investing in our neighborhood, our input should have been sought and valued, but instead, we have been intentionally excluded with arrogant disregard."

I have met Beth Murphy. I like her. She's a nice person and a conscientious neighbor and has a well-run, popular business. But this statement? Seriously, Beth? I know that you and the other rooftop owners would like your deal with the Cubs extended. Right now, the team doesn't appear to have any interest in doing that. Do you really think that putting out a release with threatening words and phrases ("blindsided", "total disregard", "intentionally excluded", "arrogant") is going to get the Cubs to change their minds? It would seem to me that this would be the time to be somewhat conciliatory.

Regardless, the next two steps of this process -- taking this before the Chicago Plan Commission, then the full City Council -- would appear to me to be pretty much pro-forma; Mayor Rahm Emanuel is clearly now guiding this process and is on board. The neighborhood groups have had their say, have had some impact, and now they need to step aside. 20 years from now, when this is history and (hopefully) the Cubs are winning championships, people will look back and wonder why this debate was so contentious.

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