I attended this meeting, held at the Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club, expecting to grab a handout with details on how this parking program will operate. Instead it was an angry and contentious meeting between the alderman, Chicago Cubs representatives and the residents. In attendance were 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar, and representing the Cubs, Kam Buckner (Manager, Government and Neighborhood Relations) and Matt Kenny (Senior Director, Wrigley Field Event Operations). The meeting space was almost full with approximately 100 residents present.
It quickly became evident how hostile the crowd was toward the alderman and the Cubs. This was the first public meeting about this program, which will begin this weekend. The residents had not been surveyed or contacted about these plans. They had no details on the program.
There was no agenda to this meeting, so the topics constantly flew all over the place. Let me first start by explaining why this new parking plan was put into place. A part of the city ordinance, approving the Wrigley Field renovation project, provided for the Cubs to provide a free remote parking lot service. This lot is supposed to accommodate at least 1,000 cars. The lot previously used at DeVry University accommodated only 500 cars. The Cubs investigated available properties and negotiated a contract with the lot at 3900 N. Rockwell Ave. The Cubs have contracted with a private bus company to provide shuttle bus service. The CTA will no longer be involved in this service.
Ald. Pawar explained that since this is a contract between two private parties, there was no city oversight required. The parking lot is in an industrial area, already zoned for parking. No additional permits, or licenses were required. The alderman only found out about this remote parking program when he was contacted by the Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club. West of the lot is an industrial area, east of the lot is a residential area and north of the lots are the Boys & Girls Club and Paul Revere Park.
Each summer, the Boys & Girls Club holds a fundraising carnival in the parking lot. The Club learned that they would not have use of the lot due to a conflict with providing Cubs parking that same weekend. The carnival usually raises $80,000. This is when the Club contacted the alderman for assistance, and this is how the alderman found out. He had to contact the Cubs to learn about the parking plans. The Cubs did assist the Club by obtaining access to another portion of the industrial property for that weekend. The Club will be able to hold their carnival and parking will be relocated to this other portion. This is how the community discovered the Cubs parking plans in their neighborhood.
The Cubs did have some specifics about the remote parking lot operations, were very vague about certain points, and simply didn't know on others. As one resident put it "the worst presentation I have ever seen." Another said, "it was an insult to the neighborhood" by only talking to them four days before the program is to begin. There were three or four times when foul language was directed toward the alderman and the Cubs representatives.
Ald. Pawar responded to residents: "if they wanted to vote against him, next February, it was their right" and added, "I hear you, you're mad." He let them know that they had the right to be mad at him. The alderman stated that despite the anger directed toward him, he would monitor the situation and "drop the hammer on the Cubs with the full weight of his office" if any problems develop with the parking program. When pressed, he added that he would not have agreed to this if it were up to him. If he lived in this neighborhood, he would be angry too.
There was a real fear that bringing in all this parking was going to bring down property values, increased traffic would endanger neighborhood children and draw rowdy fans. One resident, who introduced herself as a longtime Cubs fan, explained that she moved out of Lakeview to get away from that type of atmosphere. It was mentioned that Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is just dumping his ward's problem on the 47th Ward.
Campbell Avenue, which separates the parking lot from the residential area, is a small narrow street. It is a two-way street, so narrow there is no parking on either side. There is no sidewalk on the parking lot side of the street, only a chain link fence to separate the lot from the street. Presently the parking lot is underutilized, so it hasn't been an issue for the community.
With the park and Boys & Girls Club adjacent to the parking lot, child safety is a huge concern. A new daycare center has also recently opened on Irving Park Road opposite the entrance to the parking lot. Parents are concerned with having access to dropping off/picking up their children from the daycare center, park and Boys & Girls Club.
There were two hours' worth of complaints, so I will only touch on a few details that may be of interest here.
The entrance to the parking lot will be on Rockwell Avenue, from Irving Park. At this time, the plan is to direct all exiting traffic westbound, on Irving Park. Traffic Management Aides will be assigned to direct traffic. At this time, there are no plans for any police presence. The lot is expected to close 90 to 120 minutes after the end of the game. If there is a problem with fans returning to their cars late in the night, the lot owner can implement the services of his contracted towing firm. Shuttle bus tickets will be issued to passengers in entering vehicles. This is to prevent fans from parking in the neighborhood and hopping on the shuttle bus. Cars will be parked starting from the west side of the lot, to keep cars away from the residential area bordering the east side of the lot. Cars will be parked oriented west, to keep headlights from shining into homes on the east side of the lot. No pregame partying or tailgating, will be permitted.
A persistent concern expressed was about staffing. Matt Kenny stated that the current plans are to have seven employees staffing the lot on the first day. He could not answer as to how many will be parking attendants, and if any will be security.
Residents called for a wall, or shrubbery, to be installed along the east side of the side. This would help shield the lot from the residential area. The Cubs explained that they are only leasing the space. The residents would have to take this up with the property owner, not with the Cubs.
A gate was installed along the Campbell Avenue (east) side of the lot. This is only an emergency access gate, and would not be used to allow traffic to exit. Residents fear that traffic would spill out directly into the residential side streets, where some are very narrow.
There was no contact, or hotline, for residents to use, if there are any problems. The Cubs promised to have something set up for residents.
Shuttle buses would use Irving Park to reach the ballpark.
The Cubs representatives repeatedly mentioned that there were no issues with the remote parking arrangement at DeVry. Residents countered that the DeVry was in an industrial park, with no residential area nearby. There is a residential community right next to the new lot.
Toward the end of the meeting, this question came up: who actually set up this meeting? Ald. Pawar responded that he set up the meeting, and having the Cubs present. Kam Buckner made the mistake of saying, "We didn't understand there were concerns." This did not go over well with the crowd. There were audience members calling out that they don't trust the Cubs.