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Wrigley Field Renovations: Planned Playlot Becomes Bargaining Chip

By Serena Dai | February 13, 2013 8:51am | Updated on February 13, 2013 2:29pm

WRIGLEYVILLE — A proposed park at School Street and Racine Avenue has become a bargaining chip for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) to ensure the Chicago Cubs' renovation plans financially benefit the neighborhood.

Tunney expects the Cubs to finance at least half of the $1.5 million proposed School Street Playlot, a project he's long advocated. And the Cubs consider their contribution a "deliverable" to the community in negotiating eased night-game restrictions to help pay for the $300 million renovation of the field.

"You heard loud and clear from Ald. Tunney he wants to know what the community is getting out of the project," said Cubs spokesman Julian Green. "Our support of this new park will be one of the deliverables."

 The Cubs want restrictions on Wrigley Field and night events to be eased. 
The Cubs want restrictions on Wrigley Field and night events to be eased. 
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

In the political heat of Wrigley Field negotiations, the community's return for night-game ordinance concessions includes the park.

It's not new for Tunney to lobby for a community financial benefit from the Cubs in exchange for changes. When the Cubs wanted to hold concerts in 2005, the team needed the alderman to introduce an amendment to the Neighborhood Protection Plan, which limited the number of night events.

Since the idea of more traffic was unpopular with neighbors, the Cubs set a precedent of donating $150,000 a year to charity projects of Tunney's choice as part of an unwritten agreement between the team and the alderman, according to interviews and minutes from December's meeting of the Community Directed Development Council.

Most of the money went to local schools, with $50,000 going to AIDS Foundation Chicago in 2009, said Tunney spokeswoman Erin Duffy.

In the last two years, the Cubs have not ponied up the money.

"The shows have generated millions of dollars in amusement taxes and economic activity," Green said. "This is why we have concerns with having to pay to do something neighbors want and which benefits the local economy."

Now, concert money is playing into renovation negotiations: The Cubs will put the unpaid 2011 and 2012 concert money and more toward the School Street Playlot — but they're refusing to commit to a dollar amount until a plan is in place for renovation negotiations, according to development council minutes that quote Mike Lufrano, the Cubs' executive vice president of community affairs.

The Cubs' "focus is on saving the ballpark, and they need to have a plan in place there [night games, start times, signage] before they can make commitments outside of Wrigley," the minutes read.

Not all community benefits are determined through verbal agreements between the alderman and the Cubs. The original night-game ordinance dictated that the Cubs set aside an inflation-adjusted amount of money each year to pay for such neighborhood improvements as streetscaping and lights. That CubFund now holds an unused $1.1 million. 

But the city wouldn't let Tunney and the Cubs write down a quid-pro-quo agreement for concerts, Tunney said. So the push to find a benefit for the community in exchange for concessions remains a verbal tug of war.

"[The] Cubs making commitments is part of any negotiation," Tunney said. "We're trying to work with them."

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.