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Wrigley Field Video Screen Approved, Without Alderman's Support

By Serena Dai | July 11, 2013 12:53pm | Updated on July 11, 2013 7:49pm
 The Cubs released renderings on April 30 of the proposed video screen in left field, the hotel across the street and other changes in the neighborhood around Wrigley Field. 
Cubs Release Renderings of Video Screen, Hotel
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CITY HALL — The Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the Cubs' proposal for controversial outfield signs that represented a downsize from the original request. 

The Cubs had proposed erecting a 6,000-square-foot video screen, but Thursday's proposal reduced the video screen to 4,560 square feet, with a neon sign and two lights on top. A proposed 1,000-square-foot sign in right field will be reduced to a 650-square-foot neon sign or logo.

The outside of the right field sign must be painted "matte green" to match the exterior of the ballpark, and the outside of the video screen must be reviewed before approval. 

Overall, the left field sign — which must be lower than the scoreboard — will be about 5,700 square feet with the lights. 

The new size was supposed to represent a compromise between Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Cubs.

But Tunney testified in a trembling voice on Thursday that he could not support the signage. It "dramatically affects the quality of life of my residents," he said, and lights "will flicker in living rooms and bedrooms throughout the ward."

Previously, "in the spirit of compromise," he asked that the video display be downsized to 4,000 square feet and that the right field sign be whittled to 650 square feet. But the current design still is too close to 6,000 square feet, he said. 

Landmarks commissioners spent a long time asking questions that seemed to seek assurances that the Cubs wouldn't overwhelm the historic field with ads. 

Commissoner Mary Ann Smith said her experience as a former alderman puts "in my heart, a desire for assurances and clarification" because projects with "promises and visions" require a lot of work to become reality.

Cubs representative Mike Lufrano replied that the team wants to keep the field historic more than anybody else involved because they recognize the field is "special."

"No one has a greater incentive to preserve Wrigley Field then its ownership," he said.

Ultimately, the commissioners voted to approve the deal, they said, because they were confident that the landmarks staff would enforce rules properly.

The vote represents how the team is willing to be flexible, team spokesman Julian Green said. He expressed trust in the mayor for a process that still requires "a lot more work," he said.

"This is still a marathon," he said.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has said he'd be forced to consider a move out of Wrigley Field if the team does not get sign provisions. The Cubs have been trying to gain city approval for a $500 million project to renovate the field and develop the land outside of it. The organization wants to start construction this year, and in the last year has met with community groups, Tunney and Emanuel to hash out a framework.

Owners of the rooftops that overlook the field have threatened to sue if their views are blocked, saying it would be a violation of a 20-year revenue-sharing contract with the team. 

Beth Murphy, a rooftop owner acting as a spokeswoman for the group, would not comment on the lawsuits, saying that the process isn't completed. They're "disappointed, but not surprised" and think that the decision did not follow the landmark ordinance, she said.

Rooftop owners do not consider the downsize a compromise since they "haven't been involved in the processes" and disagree with the Cubs saying they have the right to put up the signs, she said. 

Tom Moore, an attorney for the rooftop owners, has previously said that any blockage of the view makes a difference, despite claims of "minimal" damage.

"There is no such thing as a minimal impact," Moore said. "Any obstruction of the promised view is devastating."

Aside from the video screen, Tunney asked that the Cubs pay for the public way that they will take by expanding onto Sheffield and Waveland. He sent a letter earlier this month asking for an evaluation of the value.

Green pointed to the tax revenue that the city would gain from the project in response to questions about whether or not the team would be willing to pay up.

Neighborhood groups that have continuously opposed the project's process sent another letter to the mayor on Thursday demanding a 30-minute meeting to discuss changes.

The project has not had enough public process, the letter from the Lake View Citizens' Council said. Residents and representative groups have sent 10 letters with requests, and the concerns have been largely ignored, the letter states.

Lakeview residents want their voices heard to make sure "the rights of the Cubs' neighbors are balanced with the reasonable rights of the Cubs," the letter states.

Last month, the Landmarks Commission approved 45,000 square feet of ads in the rest of the field, delaying the most controversial votes for Thursday. 

Other team plans, including a boutique hotel and an open-air plaza, will be presented to the Plan Commission next week.

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.