Although today’s Landmarks Commission meeting outcome went as planned – the Chicago Cubs’ outfield signage plan, including a JumboTron in left field and a see-through sign in right field, was approved unanimously – it did not come without drama. Why would it?
Despite an overnight report that the Cubs and Alderman Tom Tunney had come to a compromise on the size of the signage, it seems the only agreement that was struck came between the Cubs and the City of Chicago. That agreement, which saw Mayor Emanuel’s office supporting the Cubs’ signage plan, probably netted the Cubs the approval they received from the Landmarks Commission today, but may have cost them any chance of maintaining Alderman Tunney’s support through what remains of the approval process.
The approved signage is as follows, according to Crain’s Danny Ecker who ably covered the entire five hour ordeal: a 5,700 square foot sign in left field, a large portion of which is the video board, and smaller portions of which are a neon sign on top and lights (that’s why there was some confusion about the size of the JumboTron – the entire sign size is the total size of the video board and the other parts); a 650 square foot see-through sign in right field. The Cubs had requested 6,000 and 1,000 square feet, respectively. So, they just about got what they wanted on the JumboTron, but compromised significantly on the right field sign.
According to those in attendance, Tunney strenuously objected to the Cubs’ plan to erect a large video board in left field and a smaller see-through advertising sign in right field, primarily because he believes it will negatively affect the quality of life for his constituents. Nevertheless, the Commission approved the Cubs’ two outfield signs. I’m sure we’ll get more details – and quotes – by tomorrow.
I am not interested in lazy, black-and-white stories that paint one side as a hero and another side as a villain, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to portray Tunney as anything other than the very thing he says he isn’t: a lap dog for the rooftop owners. To suggest that the reason to oppose the Cubs erecting signs within Wrigley Field – the light from which will presumably be far outweighed by the lights that, you know, already light up the field – is because it could negatively affect those who live right next to the ballpark is borderline absurd. The residents of whom he’s speaking – and I don’t mean the rooftops – chose to live right next to Wrigley Field. We’re not talking about families that live blocks and blocks away and have slowly felt the encroachment of the “Wrigleyville culture” over the years. I can barely believe that Tunney advanced this argument with a straight face, let alone with what was reported to be voice-quivering passion.
The Cubs have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that the new outfield signs block as little of the rooftop views as possible, despite the fact that Cubs General Counsel Mike Lufrano said, per Ecker, that “Our agreement with the rooftops does not prohibit signage in our outfield.” The Cubs, by all accounts, are really trying here. Even the rooftops have softened the rhetoric in recent weeks. Only Tunney seems to remain intransigent.
From here, the Wrigley renovation plan will go to the Plan Commission – another arm of City Council whose members are appointed by the Mayor, like the Landmarks Commission – before proceeding to the full City Council. Given the fight Tunney has now put up about the signage, the outfield wall bump-out, and various hotel and plaza issues, we can fairly expect he will be present at every remaining step, opposing the Cubs’ plan (I anticipate the hotel and plaza details to be particularly contentious). While Tunney’s opposition isn’t necessarily going to be a problem, it is historically atypical for a significant development project to make it through City Council without the support of the alderman in whose ward the project sits.
In this instance, though, it’s hard to see the Mayor and the rest of City Council preventing the Cubs’ plan, which represents a $500 million, privately-funded project for the City of Chicago – and, not to mention, keeps one of the largest tourist attractions in the city in good shape – all because Tunney isn’t on board.
Put it this way: I have, for many months, been among the strongest voices in say that there is no way the Cubs would or should consider leaving Wrigley Field, and there’s no way the City would let that happen. If Tunney and City Council torpedoed the renovation deal when comes before full City Council? I know that my tone changes, and I can’t help but wonder if the same wouldn’t be true for the Ricketts. They’ve negotiated a deal in which they’ve bent over backwards to be accommodating. And if Chicago doesn’t make that deal happen? What choice will the Cubs have? At that point, how could they not credibly threaten to leave?
Fortunately, that’s why I’m pretty sure it won’t come to that.
For today – well, for tonight, by the time the meeting closed – this is very good news. Although there are steps ahead, the outfield signage was always likely to be the toughest battle for the Cubs. The Landmarks Commission says it’s OK by them, and it’s hard to see City Council disagreeing. The Mayor’s Office now appears to be firmly on the Cubs’ side, so I remain optimistic that the next steps will all go as planned, and the necessarily approvals will be in place in time for the Cubs to start work on the renovation as soon as this season ends.