The controversy over the Cubs' new plaza got hotter this week as Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts received a letter from some Wrigley neighbors criticizing the Cubs' plaza plans, according to Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times.
Spielman quotes from the letter, sent by the presidents of the East Lakeview, Southport, Hawthorne and Triangle Neighbors Associations:
“The Cubs organization is trying to bypass the community engagement process by going directly to the city’s liquor commissioner to obtain this liquor license — a year-round beer garden of unprecedented size and scope, which would serve alcohol to 4,000-to-6,000 people, 10-to-12 hours-a-day 365 days of the year,” the letter states. If the team’s request is granted, the Cubs would have a patio liquor license “30 times larger” than Chicago’s largest, which has a maximum capacity of 200 patrons. That would threaten both the safety of local residents and “the quality of life that we’ve worked so hard to preserve while living in the shadow of Wrigley Field,” the community leaders said. “How will the Cubs organization and city officials address the public safety issues associated with hosting the Midwest’s largest beer garden? How many police officers will the city need to pull from other neighborhoods in order to keep the peace with thousands of intoxicated partygoers spilling into the streets at 11 p.m. or midnight? How will you ensure the safety of the families at the plaza enjoying `family-friendly’ activities alongside this beer garden…without taking precious CPD resources away from other communities?” the letter states. “The safety and quality of life of our community cannot be compromised by the pursuit of revenue. … It is not the responsibility of the community to help the Cubs owners generate revenue. And we won’t be bullied into meeting the demands of the Cubs organization by attacks on our process in the media.”
Well. There are a few things to note here. First, it's extremely unlikely that the Cubs would have "4,000-to-6,000 people, 10-to-12 hours-a-day 365 days of the year" on the plaza, although the license the Cubs are seeking would probably permit that. Beyond the 81 Cubs home dates (and any playoff dates), it's doubtful that crowds that large would gather for more than a few days at a time, and most of the plaza events would be designed for smaller crowds (an ice rink, farmers markets and movies have been suggested as events).
Further, while the letter says "It is not the responsibility of the community to help the Cubs owners generate revenue," it is a fact that the Cubs are the primary economic engine for the area. If the neighborhood groups refuse to recognize this, I don't know what to tell them.
The central dispute here, apparently, is this, writes Spielman:
The City Council plays no role in granting a patio license. It’s approved by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Liquor Control Commission.
And that's why Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is having trouble, since according to that, he'd have no influence over the Cubs getting the license they need, although he's certainly trying to inject himself into the process, as I noted here last week.
The plaza might be ready to open to the public by the end of this baseball season. The Cubs are placing a giant video screen on their plaza building which could presumably show live games, attracting a crowd that doesn't have game tickets. Tunney's proposal would limit the plaza to ticketed Wrigley patrons, something that's probably a non-starter for the team.
In the end, some sort of compromise will likely be brokered that won't really make anyone happy, but everyone involved -- the team, the city and the neighborhood -- will get something out of it. It would, I think, be better for everyone if this process played out in private, instead of in public.