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Wrigley Renovations: Neighborhood Activists Address Cubs Lobbying Efforts

By Serena Dai | May 8, 2013 10:11am
 Mike Lufrano, Cubs' executive vice president of community affairs, presents Wrigley Field renovation plans to East Lake View Neighbors on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.
Mike Lufrano, Cubs' executive vice president of community affairs, presents Wrigley Field renovation plans to East Lake View Neighbors on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — While the Cubs have hired a grassroots organizing firm to rally residents who support the team's renovation plans, the East Lake View Neighbors group says its members determine official positions.

"You're not going to walk in and take over our meeting,” Terie Kata, treasurer of the organization, said at a Tuesday night East Lake View Neighbors gathering, which was attended by some non-member neighborhood residents. “That has been tried in the past.”

"When it comes to voting rights, we listen to paid members," said Kata.

Non-members were allowed to speak at the meeting but the neighbors group handed out surveys about the plan on pink paper to paying members. People voicing their opinion during the meeting were asked to hold up the slips to denote membership.

Residents attending who were not members were welcome to join, at a $10 per year dues.

The team has hired a consulting firm, 270 Strategies, which is run by a former campaign strategist for President Barack Obama, to encourage supportive 44th ward residents to attend neighborhood meetings to speak up — with offers of free game tickets.

It was unclear whether the residents unaffiliated with East Lake View Neighbors were prompted to attend Tuesday's meeting by the Cubs' lobbying effort.

It wasn't the first time non-members have gone to a meeting on a hot topic: In 2001, about 20 people supporting the Cubs’ bleacher expansion plans showed up at an East Lake View Neighbors gathering, which are typically attended by 50 to 100 people, depending on the topic, Kata said.

The group created a rule afterward that says only members who have been active for at least a couple weeks have voting rights, established so that people would at least have an agenda and understand the full topic before making a decision, Kata said.

People who show up only for hot topics do not offer well-informed opinions, said Beth Murphy, a board member of East Lake View Neighbors and owner of local rooftop Murphy's Bleachers. The Cubs’ organizing efforts diminish the hard work of active residents, she said.

“I take the time to go to the meetings because I think they’re important,” she said. “I feel that it is dismissive of people who [Cubs community affairs representative] Mike Lufrano works with every day.”

Many community meetings are a cacophony of criticisms against the Cubs' new plan: Too many night games, too many signs and not enough detail. The official position of Lake View Citizens’ Council, an umbrella for the neighborhood groups, asks for several critical changes, including fewer night games and more team-funded security.

The team believes a number of residents support what’s been presented — but they simply don’t have time to come to regular meetings, said Cubs spokesman Julian Green. Their voices should still be heard, he said.

“If they are a voter, they have a right to voice an opinion to local officials,” Green said. “Period.”

Despite the eye for membership slips, East Lake View Neighbors let anyone speak Tuesday night. Several members voiced support for the Cubs' plan, calling it a win for families and the neighborhood.

“I’m personally very excited about what Wrigley Field can become,” said member Marguerite Judge. “They’re working it out.”

Free game tickets won’t change anyone's mind, she added.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said at the meeting his surveys show that 30 percent are completely for the plan, 30 percent are against it and the other 40 percent have mixed feelings, he said.

He encouraged residents to come to his office, email or call him so he'll have a full idea of what people want.

“I’m between a rock and a hard place for many of these issues,” Tunney said. “And I have a mayor who is much more aggressive about trying to get this deal done sooner than later.”

The Cubs still need city and community approval for the $500 million plan to renovate the stadium and develop the surrounding land.

Team Chairman Tom Ricketts said Tuesday that he thinks the team has the necessary support to start construction this year, but supportive residents should still speak up.

"I think we're moving forward, just going through the process," he said. "Everyone keep your fingers crossed and just keep showing up at meetings."

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 Chicago. Joe Ricketts has no direct involvement in the team's day-to-day operations.