I had planned to have an update on last night’s rally by neighbors who have concerns about the Cubs’ plans to develop outside of Wrigley Field, but it sounds like it was a relatively quiet affair. Tom Tunney, the Alderman of the ward in which Wrigley Field sits, was in attendance, and he continues to be a major part of the renovation story.
Today at 11am CT, the Chicago Plan Commission began the meeting that will pass upon the Cubs’ comprehensive renovation plan, and the step is not expected to represent a significant hurdle in the approval process. That doesn’t mean the day will go without fireworks, as Alderman Tunney reportedly plans to continue opposing the Cubs’ renovation plans, at least until his list of demands are met. Those demands have included:
- The proposed pedestrian bridge connecting the proposed hotel to the plaza west of the ballpark must be axed (Tunney doesn’t see the point in the bridge, and believes it could be a safety issue if you’ve got folks drinking or drunk on the bridge).
- The patio extending off of the hotel and over Patterson Street must be removed (too close to homes).
- The proposed hotel lobby must be located on Addison Street or Clark Street, not Patterson Street (because Patterson is a residential street).
According to the Sun-Times and the Tribune, Alderman Tunney has added an additional demand to his previous list (which included a reduction in the size of the outfield signage – a demand that he kind of got, even though he wasn’t happy about the scope of the reduction): a moratorium on additional outfield signs, beyond the two big ones, for 10 years. This demand, from Tunney’s perspective, is completely understandable. The Cubs’ contract with the rooftops runs just about another 10 years, and, with two signs going up in the outfield that don’t completely block any views, Tunney wants to make sure that no additional signs are put up to block views during the remainder of the contract.
Now, I’m saying only that the request from his perspective is understandable, not necessarily a good thing. When the Landmarks Commission approved various changes to Wrigley Field, it also approved a “Master Sign Plan,” in which the Cubs asked for everything under the sun as a possible future sign. The Cubs were simply protecting themselves in the event that they needed/wanted to add more signage in the future, and didn’t want to have to go through the same painful political rigmarole. I believe the Cubs when they say they aren’t itching to add a ton of new signs along the outfield wall or on The Old Scoreboard – the Cubs have an interest in preserving the beauty of Wrigley, and balancing that against the need for additional revenue. The key here is that the Cubs want options. They don’t want artificial restrictions. A sign moratorium would be just such an artificial restriction, and I think it’s fair if they fight it. The Cubs do have a contract with the rooftop partners, and I don’t think the Cubs’ immediate intention is to block them out of existence – just look at the lengths the Cubs are going to in order minimize the impact of the two new outfield signs.
According to those Sun-Times and Tribune reports, Tunney plans to fight the Mayor on the floor of City Council if his demands aren’t met. He has even starting rallying other aldermen to oppose the project, explaining that the local alderman should know what is best for his ward. Setting aside the fact that a $500 million, privately-funded project to renovate and improve one of the most important tourist destinations in Chicago reaches far, far beyond the best interests of his ward, I still have trouble wrapping around how Tunney believes this particular approach is best for his ward.
In my most head-tilting, incredulous voice: you want to kill a $500 million, privately-funded development project for your ward because of a pedestrian bridge? Really? You want to expend political capital fighting a widely popular $500 million, privately-funded development project for your ward because of a hotel entrance? Seriously? You want to actively solicit other aldermen to join you in opposing the Mayor on a $500 million, privately-funded development project that looks like a major victory for the Mayor because of the potential of a couple more signs inside a ballpark? For real?
Perhaps I’m unfairly framing things, but that all just sounds crazy to me. It’s becoming increasingly plausible to wonder whether Tunney has decided that he’s going to lose this fight no matter what, and has made the political calculation that it’s worth more to him to oppose the Mayor (and lose) than to work collaboratively with the Cubs.
For what it’s worth, this could all be a part of the negotiation dance, too. The Sun-Times report suggests that the Cubs have agreed to remove the patio that extends off from the hotel (item 2), and will consider moving the hotel entrance (item 3). Those are additional concessions Tunney can now claim that his hardball tactics helped him secure. I’m not so sure he’ll get his way on the bridge or the sign moratorium, though, and that’s when we’ll see how far he’s willing to go in this fight.