As expected, the owners of the buildings that line the outfield at Wrigley Field were quite unhappy with the Landmarks Commission’s unanimous decision yesterday to allow the Cubs to erect a JumboTron in left field and an advertising sign in right field. Although the Cubs have ostensibly gone to great lengths to reduce the impact of the signage on those external views into Wrigley Field – the Cubs do have an agreement with the rooftops, which reportedly runs through 2024 – the rooftop owners are still upset.
From the release the rooftop owners issued shortly after the Commission’s decision:
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks issued a decision wholly inconsistent with its mission of preserving and protecting historic properties in the City of Chicago by approving dramatic changes that adversely affect specifically protected elements of Wrigley Field. Contrary to most landmark debates, this action was taken without community participation or any scheduled public hearings. The language passed today appears to allow for additional bleacher signage without the consent of the Commission. Rooftop owners – a significantly affected partner – have been intentionally excluded by the Cubs and City of Chicago as decisions to aid the Ricketts family have been rushed through.
The Wrigleyville Rooftops Association has released the following statement from Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers in reaction to today’s events:
“Today’s decision is a blow to anyone who cares deeply for the historic and special nature of Wrigley Field. We, like many residents of the Lakeview community, feel blindsided by the total disregard of the commissioners who ignored years of careful work that went into crafting the 2004 Landmark Ordinance and the corresponding contractual agreement between the Chicago Cubs and the rooftops. We want to see a modernized Wrigley Field, but throughout this process, the affected small business owners have been shut out to create a more favorable deal for a billionaire family.”
“In January, rooftop owners proposed a solution that would preserve the feel of Wrigley Field, provide the Ricketts family revenue needed to modernize the ball park while keeping rooftops in business. Unfortunately, the Ricketts family muscled through a plan today that adversely impacts Wrigley Field and the surrounding business and homes. As small business owners who have spent more than 30 years and tens of millions of dollars investing in our neighborhood, our input should have been sought and valued, but instead, we have been intentionally excluded with arrogant disregard.”
I can understand a group of businesses fighting for their future, but the “today’s decision is a blow to anyone who cares deeply for the historic and special nature of Wrigley Field” part goes a bit far. No one is as incentivized as the Cubs to preserve that historic and special nature of Wrigley Field – not just because they are stewards of history, but because it makes them a lot of money. I have little doubt that the new signs will incorporate well into the park, and will be designed in such a way as to minimize the amount that they stand out.
We’ll see how things proceed now, vis a vis the rooftops. There remain official, legislative steps before the signs go up, so we’ll probably hear some more saber rattling over the coming weeks/months. And if the late-night Twitter rantings of one rooftop owner* are to be credited, at least some rooftop owners stand ready to sue. If this all does lead to a lawsuit – an unfortunate outcome about which I’ve written previously – we can only hope that the uncertainty associated with legal proceedings will not impact the actual renovation process. Although I was a lawyer in a former life, I don’t want to play law-guy here because there’s too much that we don’t know. I’ll say only that, if memory serves, this kind of contractual dispute would seem to be the kind where the fight would be about damages (i.e., the payment of money from one side to the other), rather than about actually blocking the construction.
For the Cubs’ part, Mike Lufrano seemed to state the team’s position yesterday at the Landmark Commission hearing, which is that their agreement with the rooftops does not preclude the organization from building these signs. That doesn’t sound like the position of an organization that is afraid to proceed with the signage, which has now been blessed by the Landmarks Commission.
Up next: the Plan Commission on July 18.
*I’m fairly certain that Twitter account is legit, but I would be happy to correct if it is not.