For the second year in a row the Wrigley Field Community Meeting was held virtually, allowing for more neighbors to attend than the traditional in-person meeting has accommodated. I’ve attended this meeting for the last five years and while some things never change — there are always concerns about residents being able to access their homes during games and the noise that comes with living next door to a Major League Baseball stadium — there was some new information in this year’s meeting regarding COVID policies, the planned sports book and rescheduled concerts.
One of the more interesting developments of having this meeting virtually is that more elected officials have their representatives attend. In addition to 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, this year’s call included 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman, plus representatives from 32nd Ward Scott Waguespack’s office and Rep. Mike Quigley’s 5th district office.
Heather Way Kitzes, the Assistant Director of Government and Community Affairs for the Cubs kicked things off with the team’s initiatives to keep the community safe, informed, clean and vibrant. She provided updates on safety initiatives around the ballpark including the team paying for ten additional security guards in the neighborhood and donating $50,000 to the 19th Police District for the purchase of a command van that will be used in the neighborhood.
One new development she reported on from last year was the results of the vaccination clinic the Cubs housed in their office building at the corner of Waveland and Clark last season. She noted that nearly 45,000 Chicago residents were vaccinated at the clinic.
Kitzes also spoke to some of the major events that would take place this summer including some rescheduled concerts from 2021. Those events include a Def Leppard and Motley Crue show, the return of the Zac Brown Band and Chris Stapleton, and the Lumineers, for now, with the possibility of more shows to be added.
Kitzes was followed by updates from various city offices, the most notable of which came from the Chicago Public Health Department, which explicitly stated masking guidance is currently only in place for public transit, hospitals and congregate care settings. While this could change if there were a spike in cases, they do not anticipate a mask mandate for sporting events, including Cubs games, for the baseball season.
Well, I should say, they don’t anticipate a masking mandate in the event of a baseball season. MLB’s lockout of the players was a prominent undertone in the meeting with elected officials expressing their desire that the two sides would reach an agreement soon and residents concerned that an extended delay to the start of the season would negatively impact local businesses in an area that has already taken a hit from the pandemic.
Safety in and around the ballpark was another prominent theme during the meeting, as there has been a spike in crime in the neighborhood in the last calendar year. Alderman Tunney asked a couple of pointed questions about what the city planned regarding increased police presence both near the ballpark and on the CTA as residents made their way to Wrigley Field. Commander Amin Jessani from the 19th District said they were planning for crowds that were back to pre-pandemic levels and would have an officer core at “full strength” for games. He also indicated they were working with CTA to increase the number of officers on transit. The familiar Chicago Police Department bike teams will return to the area and the police will have fixed posts along the Red Line.
After some other uneventful departmental updates the meeting shifted to community questions where some of the standard concerns are hashed out each year. I’ll spare you the questions about noise, garbage and how difficult it is to drive in and out of the neighborhood on game days. But there were a handful of interesting developments in this section that deserve mention.
Will Waveland be a one-way street in the near future? This is not specifically due to Cubs concerns, but there has been an ongoing conversation in the neighborhood about making Waveland a one-way street because it is very narrow for two-way traffic in the best of circumstances, but between Cubs traffic and pick-up/drop-off down the street at InterAmerican School it can back up considerably. This issue is being studied and could have an answer later this year. There are a number of additional concerns regarding making Waveland a one-way street, not the least of which is the presence of the fire station across from the left field gate at Wrigley Field.
Neighbors also had concerns about the size and hours of the Draft Kings Sports Book that is planned for the corner of Addison and Sheffield. Pre-construction for that structure has already begun, but neighbors noted that area is generally crowded with buses dropping off fans at that corner. There will be a lot less space once the building is complete. Ald. Tunney indicated that there are plans to widen the sidewalk by four feet to accommodate the new sports book.
Beyond the size of the sports book one resident wanted to know why the hours were so late on weekends. It was noted in the meeting that the sports book would be open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. The Cubs clarified that they anticipated most of the betting to take place online, but residents expressed a tension between the family friendly environment of the ballpark and a sports book attached to the structure. I imagine this issue will persist in the neighborhood and anticipate hearing more going forward. Interested parties can look at the plans for the sports book by going to this link at the 44thward.org website.
I attempted to ask if there were any plans to reappropriate the night games potentially lost to the MLB lockout to other events at Wrigley Field over the course of 2022, however both times that question was addressed it was answered as though it was regarding rescheduling the games themselves. At this moment it is unclear if those night games could become other events at Wrigley Field at some other point during the year.