New Wrigley Plan: 'Not So Fast,' Says Rahm

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

The new Wrigley Field renovation plans could be held up. (This should not surprise you.)

The Cubs revealed new plans for Wrigley Field expansion and restoration Tuesday that included seven new outfield signs, tall outfield light towers, a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse, a new restaurant/club, an auditorium/interview room and bullpens beneath the bleachers. I posted renderings of the new proposals here Tuesday and you can see a portion of one of those renderings above (more on this later).

Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney stated at the time that the Cubs hoped to break ground, at least on the clubhouse, this summer.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, however, appears to have been surprised by all of this, as chronicles by Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that his handpicked Commission on Chicago Landmarks would not consider the revised plan to build seven outfield signs, including a second video scoreboard, 300 new seats and new outfield light standards because there were elements of it that no one at City Hall had ever seen before that would impact landmarked elements of the century-old stadium.

The article says that negotiations between the Cubs and rooftop owners had reached an "impasse" after discussing many ways of settling their dispute, including extending the current deal and buying out the contract. Last week, Danny Ecker of Crain's Chicago Business wrote about what the rooftops were supposedly asking for:

Eventually, insiders say, conversation moved to a buyout — something the Cubs probably should have done two decades ago. But there was no agreement, with one source telling me the rooftops wanted $250 million but the Rickettses were prepared to pay only $50 million.

Incidentally, Ecker's right about "two decades ago." Really, that number should be "three decades ago," because Tribune Co. should have bought up all those buildings in the early 1980s, right after they bought the team. Here's a little story that tells you how low the values of those buildings were not long before the Cubs were sold to Tribune Co. A longtime friend of mine, who drove to many Cubs games in the 1970s, told me that he had befriended one of the building owners on Sheffield, who used to let him park behind his building. At one point -- 1978 or 1979 -- this building owner wanted to sell and asked my friend if he wanted to buy. The asking price? $38,000. My friend didn't have the money at the time so declined the offer.

It seems clear, then, that Tribune could probably have bought every single one of those buildings in the early 1980s for not much more than $1 million. It's quite surprising that they didn't, in fact, because WGN-TV had considered using one of the buildings -- the one where the United ad is now -- as a sort of "skybox" for clients as early as the 1960s.

Now? $250 million is laughable. Those buildings and businesses aren't worth anywhere near that much. $50 million is too low, I think, but there should be some figure in between -- toward the low end, rather than the higher, I think -- that would buy out the rooftop businesses and buildings and end this mess.

In the meantime, perhaps the Cubs should just go ahead and start with some of this project. Break ground on the clubhouse -- that shouldn't require any approval, since it's on property the Cubs already own and wouldn't block anyone's view. Maybe they should go ahead and put up the right-field sign that's already been approved, and that they put up mock signage for last October. That would undoubtedly trigger a lawsuit from the rooftop owners, and really, it's past time for them to do that. This dispute needs to be resolved; the only place it appears we'll get that resolution is in court, and some lawyers have said that the Cubs appear to be on strong legal ground.

Frankly, I think that if you look at the image below, you can draw just one conclusion, and that is that the new signage and light towers appear to be designed to do exactly one thing: block every single rooftop view. Part of the panoramic rendering is above. Take a look at the full panoramic rendering (click on it for a larger version in a new window or tab):

The Cubs don't really need seven outfield signs, do they? They seemed quite happy with the approval they got from the Landmarks Commission and the City Council for their original plan a year ago -- until the rooftops started yammering again.

Go ahead and trigger the lawsuit, Cubs. Because if you're going to wait for the city, it could take a while. The Cubs had hoped to have this in front of the Landmarks Commission next week, but the mayor says that's not going to happen:

"At my direction, Ald. [Pat] O’Connor was meeting with the rooftop industry as well as the owners of Wrigley for months trying to work through the issue and there are things….he said he had not seen before. So this is not ready for next week and they have work to do," the mayor said.

"In all the meetings Pat O’Connor had or with Planning, nobody ever saw that [plan to relocate the bullpens]. It was first seen yesterday. That’s why you don’t take something that’s been there for 100 years and just try to rush it in a week…This recent submission is not ready for next week and there won’t be a meeting or a hearing on it [by the Landmarks Commission] because there’s new things that have been submitted."

In the end, I think the lawsuit will happen, the rooftops will lose, and the Cubs will be allowed to go ahead with the plan that was approved by the city last year. The Cubs will withdraw the seven-sign plan, most rooftop views will not be blocked, and eventually the Cubs will wind up buying them all out. It's way past time for all of this to begin.

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