CITY HALL — The Chicago Plan Commission voted unanimously Thursday to support a plan to build a hotel, open-air plaza and pedestrian bridge outside Wrigley Field after Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) unexpectedly testified he fully supports the Cubs' Wrigleyville development plan.
The approval for the 175-room hotel at Clark and Addison and for the open-air plaza across the street represents another win for the Cubs as they seek city approval for a $500 million project to renovate the field and develop the outside neighborhood.
"From months of negotiations and discussions," Tunney said, "we have now arrived at a point where I have no objections to this project."
The alderman demanded as recently as Wednesday night that the Cubs compromise on several sticking points before he would support the plan, including eliminating a pedestrian bridge over Clark Street and moving a planned hotel entrance away from residential Patterson Street.
But the plan that the commission approved did not include those caveats. The Cubs' Thursday version of the project moved the hotel's entrance 10 feet closer to Clark and deferred a decision on a patio over Patterson. The open-air bridge — which Mike Lufrano, the Cubs' executive vice president of community affairs, said they're "seriously looking" at closing — stayed in the project.
The whole project must still be approved by a zoning board and by the full City Council next week before the team can start construction.
Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team is "willing to talk" about changes with the bridge and the entrance on Patterson, but for now, they're moving forward with the project that the Plan Commission approved.
The alderman's message was slightly different. Tunney testified his approval with an agreement of further discussion, saying that Cubs are willing to move the hotel entrance to Clark and Addison, that the Cubs agreed to "no beer garden" over Patterson and that "a dialogue" will happen about the bridge.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Cubs also assured Tunney that the team will not add new outfield signs "for many years to come," Tunney said.
Several plan commissioners did disagree with points about the project, with the bridge being the biggest sore point, before they approved the project.
Bridges over the public way are unnecessary except in the rare case of hospitals, said Commissioner Doris Holleb. An open-air walkway in Wrigleyville could potentially be dangerous, said Commissioner George Migala.
"As we saw of the video of Blackhawks, people who are very enthusiastic can do things they should not do, like throw things around," he said.
Lufrano said it's necessary to keep pedestrian traffic safe and moving during busy game days. The bridge will also be used by residents who use a planned health club or visitors using proposed banquet halls, he said.
Green pointed to bridges across the city and along Lake Shore Drive where "people are not throwing beers" off.
A lengthy public testimony was filled with some residents bemoaning the speed of the development and others calling for modernization.
Southport Neighbors president Jill Peters feared the bridge would become an open-air "private party bridge." Resident Mike Merlo thought the development would turn Wrigleyville into "Rickettsville," he said.
Supporters of the project, some who wore white "Keep the Cubs" T-shirts that were offered at a sign-in table, said the field needs to be modernized and that a hotel is needed.
Scott Spiegel, who used to live in Wrigleyville during the campaign for no lights in the 1980s, said this situation is similar. But now that the Cubs can play night games, the neighborhood is better off, he said.
"It's a more vibrant neighborhood," he said.
Green said the commission's vote shows they understand the need to innovate. The Ricketts family is willing to be flexible, he said, Thursday's decisions shows the team is "able to hold hands" with the city, the alderman and the community.
"They'd like us to innovate, they'd like us to grow," Green said, "and they'd certainly like to see the field go into the 21st century."
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.