CITY HALL — The Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously Thursday to approve several aspects of the Cubs' renovation of Wrigley Field, including the team's plan to extend its outfield walls, but put off a vote on a 6,000-foot jumbotron.
The commission also approved the installation of more than 100 other signs, totalling 45,000 square feet.
But the commission put off a vote on the controversial plan to put the video board in left field and also delayed a vote on a 1,000-square-foot sign in right field. The commission will reconsider those proposals at its July 11 meeting.
Elements of the project, such as building on the public way, still need approval from the full City Council.
Before Thursday's vote, the commission's director, Eleanor Gorski, recommended the entire board approve the other new sign, which includes an LED ribbon in
left field. Gorski also recommended approving Wrigley Field's extension onto Sheffield and Waveland avenues, since both areas of the field are largely "non-historic," she said.
The extension eliminates a lane of parking on Waveland and the sidewalk on Sheffield — a provision that Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he did not approve. Tunney's hope is that the Cubs will compromise and limit the extension onto the public way, he said Thursday.
"It does mean the introduction of a public subsidy into the proposal," Tunney said. "This is an important outstanding issue for my constituency."
The commission rules on whether the changes are consistent with Wrigley Field's landmark status. Separate City Council approval will be necessary for aspects such as expanding the outer outfield wall into the public way.
Regardless, Cub spokesman Julian Green called it "a really good win for us today," saying, "We're happy to move forward with this part of the process, but we know we've got a lot more work to do." He said the Cubs would continue to push for the full 6,000-square-foot jumbotron in left field, adding, "The elements we put forward are the elements we need." He said the revenue to be generated by the new large signs in left and right field was key to recouping what he emphasized is the Cubs' $500 million private investment in the Wrigley renovation.
Yet George Loukas, spokesman for the Sheffield-Waveland rooftops, said he felt the Cubs would trim the size of their scoreboards to allow better views from outside the ballpark. "The Cubs are willing to negotiate," Loukas said. "And they'll meet some of our requirements." He emphasized how the rooftops still have a contract with the Cubs, adding, "We're looking forward to a long and rewarding relationship."
"I think we'll talk about it, and I think we'll reach a compromise," said Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy's Bleachers.
About 50 people signed up for public comment at Thursday's session. Opinions ranged from utmost support — "We need bathrooms," said one woman decked out in Cubs gear — to further disapproval of the field's expansion onto the public way.
Resident Jim Spencer said he felt "disenfranchised" by the process. He wants the renovation to go through, but does not "want to subsidize it with my quality of life," he said.
Additional traffic studies on the extension by the Chicago Department of Transportation will be studied and addressed by the Plan Commission in the future.
The team has emphasized a desire to finish the planning process in time to start construction this year.
The commission discussed aspects of the field improvements at Thursday's special meeting, which was held at the request of the team. The commission had no purview on the hotel, a proposed pedestrian bridge over Clark connecting the hotel to Wrigley or the adjacent triangle property, Gorski said.
As far as signs, they will be static, neon or LED, including "a lot of historic-looking" ones, Gorski said. They were all recommended for approval so that the Cubs can move forward in negotiating with certain sponsors, she added.
Not all the signs would be installed immediately, said Mike Lufrano, the Cubs' executive director of community affairs.
Tunney emphasized his distaste for certain aspects of the plan in a letter to the Cubs Wednesday night. Besides protesting the extension onto Sheffield and Waveland, he said that 6,000 square feet is too big for the jumbotron, and proposed the sign be downsized by half. For the right-field sign, 1,000 square feet should be whittled down to 600 square feet, the letter said.
He told reporters that the proposed sizes are out of character for the neighborhood and quipped that he will be able to watch games from his house a mile away.
"Advertising affects the quality of life in our neighborhood," Tunney told the commission.
Rooftop owners that look over the field have threatened to sue if the Cubs break their contract by blocking views, and after a mock-up of the signs went up it was clear the right-field sign would impact more views, according to people who saw it. But Loukas backed off those threats Thursday, emphasizing the likelihood for compromise.
Gorski recommended approval for most of the Cubs' request for changes — from adding decks to an upgrade on the Captain Morgan Club — with caveats to maintain certain historical aspects such as using older brick and pending approval on cut-sheets of the proposed stucco and tile to be used.
Tunney said a deal will be done by the end of the summer. He's confident that there will be compromise on main points like the bleacher expansion and the size of the signs.
"Look at how far we've come," Tunney 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 management of the iconic team.