The fallout from last week’s Landmarks Commission meeting has been interesting to observe. For those who missed it, and the lead-up to that meeting, let me catch you up with the five-minute-version: the Cubs were irritated/concerned that the night game ordinance portion of the Wrigley Field renovation framework was altered at the last minute to weaken the overall value to the Cubs. Those concerns manifested themselves in a new round of “OMG will the Cubz move” rumors. Tom Ricketts and Mayor Rahm Emanuel had a meeting at City Hall where Ricketts was reportedly assured that Emanuel would help fast track the approvals necessary to assure that the renovation could start in earnest after the season ends. Shortly thereafter, the Landmarks Commission scheduled a special meeting to approve the portions of the renovation tied to the landmark status. The day before that meeting, Alderman Tom Tunney wrote a letter to the Cubs saying he could no longer support the overall renovation plan because of five elements with which he did not agreed, the biggest of which were the size of the outfield signs.
At the meeting on Thursday, the Landmarks Commission approved the relevant pieces of the renovation, except for the two outfield signs (the JumboTron in left and the see-through advertising sign in right, which will be discussed at the July 11th regular meeting). It did so over objections from Tunney, who apparently changed his position again with respect to the renovation framework, opposing the Cubs’ plan to bump out the outfield walls to increase the Wrigley footprint and accommodate those outfield signs (i.e., to improve the sight lines for the rooftops).
A helpful BN’er passed along the message Alderman Tunney sent out to his constituency after the meeting, and here’s what he now says about bumping the walls out:
I am supportive of the application that passed out of the Commission on Landmarks today with one exception: the expansion of the walls onto the public-right-of-way. That means two things: the introduction of public subsidy into the proposal and allowing for an increase in their interior scope thereby facilitating more signage.
Tunney has not, to my recollection, spoken publicly on the wall-bump-out plan, but his support was presumed because of its positive impact on the rooftops. Apparently he’s not going to support the plan, though, because this is some strong rhetoric. Although the Landmarks Commission signed off on the expansion, my understanding is that it will still have to be approved by City Council – and these things tend not to do well without the support of the Alderman in whose ward the project sits.
To that end, it once again looks like the Cubs could have a fight on their hands with respect to Alderman Tunney, whether it’s about the size of the outfield signs, the bump out of the outfield walls, or the particulars of the hotel and the plaza (about which Tunney has made unsupportive comments).
The Sun-Times reports that the Mayor may soon have to lean on Tunney a little more aggressively than he’s been willing to do thus far. The tone of the piece, which is well worth reading, is plainly negative with respect to Tunney, who is described as unable to “stick to a deal” and “not … the easiest person to negotiate with” by a source close to the negotiations. Further, a Mayoral source described the Mayor as “exasperated” by Tunney’s perceived reversal on the bump-out-the-walls plan.
The article is particularly interesting to me given that the Sun-Times has been, to date, mostly covering the renovation story from the Mayor’s camp’s perspective. I’m not saying this report is the Mayor’s Office’s way of warning Tunney to cut it out, but … well … it could be.
As I’ve said before: although Emanuel likely doesn’t want to step on a popular alderman, the Mayor has a lot to lose by letting the Wrigley renovation – a $500 million, privately-funded investment in his city (to say nothing of keeping the Cubs and Wrigley Field around) – run into serious problems. Getting this deal done without any public money was quite a feather in his cap, and I believe he’d like to keep that feather there.
I’m not sure how aggressively the Mayor will want to push the Alderman, but it sounds like it’s getting to that point. The Cubs have already bent so much in this process that Tunney can easily claim political victory to save face. How much more does he want?