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Wrigley Rooftop Owners Propose Digital Billboards, Want Ordinances Changed

By Serena Dai | January 25, 2013 7:14am | Updated on January 25, 2013 2:49pm

LAKEVIEW — Wrigleyville rooftop bar owners are offering a compromise to the Cubs, who want to put up billboards that could block rooftop views of the ballpark: Put the billboards above the rooftops, outside the park.

Unfortunately for the rooftop owners, the Cubs may not play ball.

Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy's Rooftop Company at 3655 N. Sheffield Ave., pitched the plan at Wednesday's 44th Ward Community Directed Development Council meeting, sources at the closed-door gathering said. Murphy and George Loukas of Cubby Bear presented renderings of the plan at a press conference Friday morning.

The proposal includes attaching seven digital billboards to the buildings while avoiding blocking any view of the field, as this video they presented shows. Ads would rotate based on the game. The size of the billboards would vary, with one over 3627 N. Sheffield Ave. being about 20 feet wide and 7 feet high.

 The Cubs introduced a $300 million renovation package at the Cubs Convention on Jan. 19, 2013. Funding remains a sore spot as the Cubs want the city to ease landmark restrictions that prevent installation of money-making billboards. 
The Cubs introduced a $300 million renovation package at the Cubs Convention on Jan. 19, 2013. Funding remains a sore spot as the Cubs want the city to ease landmark restrictions that prevent installation of money-making billboards. 
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Chicago Cubs

Boards would flash ads during games only, Murphy said, and during off-season, they could be turned off or display scenes such as snowflakes falling or Halloween decorations — whatever the community, Cubs and rooftop owners think is best.

"That's why this is so exciting," she said.

According to an analysis by Platt Retail Institute based on the market rate of ads in fields in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, rooftop owners say their billboard plan will generate between $10 and $20 million for the community and the Cubs.

The Cubs' marketing people would manage the relationships with advertisers. 

The Cubs have said through spokesman Julian Green that billboards outside the field "offer significantly reduced value given the limited TV exposure." But rooftop owners insist the research looked at the line of sight for television, and Murphy believes outside billboards could potentially even provide more revenue for the Cubs.

"This provides a bigger palette," Murphy said.

Ricketts family spokesman Dennis Culloton said if the rooftop owners have a serious plan, they should be meeting with them and not the press.

The proposal needs more than just the approval of the Cubs. In order to display digital signs, rooftop owners would need the city's digital signage ordinance to change, which bans flashing billboards in residential areas. Murphy thinks the area could be changed into a special advertising district, just as the area is a special entertainment district.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who has received thousands of dollars from rooftop owners and has supported previous measures that would prevent blocking their lucrative views, said in a statement that he's open to the new proposal as part of the larger project to renovate Wrigley.

"We are still working with all parties involved to forge agreements and move forward," Bennett Lawson, Tunney's chief of staff, said in a statement.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he is not making a judgment on the proposal.

"All the groups involved should work together to craft a solution that works for everyone, in particular the taxpayers and the neighbors of Wrigley Field," a statement from the mayor's office issued Friday afternoon stated.

If the Cubs find a way to block views, rooftop owners are ready to fight based on their contract that lasts until 2023: They said they're willing to go to court.

"The Cubs wouldn't be here if we weren't here," Loukas said. 

Advertising has been a point of conflict regarding the proposed $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field. Cubs brass said they would pay for the whole thing, but they want the city to ease restrictions that stymie plans to install more ads.

Changes require approval from local businesses, the community, Tunney and the city.

Jim Ludwig, who represented Triangle Neighbors Association at Wednesday's CDDC meeting and saw aspects of Murphy's proposal, thought it sounded like a win-win situation. 

"I think it's a brilliant idea if they can make it work," Ludwig said. "It was not objectionable from any way from the neighbor point of view."

Area business representative Gus Isacson, executive director of Central Lakeview Merchants Association, who also attended Wednesday's meeting, thought the plan presented a creative way for the two businesses to negotiate. 

"It's an innovative way for rooftops and Wrigley to have a dialog," he said.

The Cubs and Wrigley Field are 95 percent owned by a trust established for the benefit of the family of Joe Ricketts, owner and CEO of DNAinfo.com. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the team's day-to-day operations. 

Ted Cox contributed to this report.