NORTH CENTER — As fans gear up for the start of the Cubs' 2014 home season, a contingent of North Center residents is dreading the beginning of operations at the team's new remote parking lot, situated in their neighborhood.
In the past, the Cubs have offered remote parking at DeVry University, which held 500 cars and cost users $6 to park. This year, as one of the stipulations written into the neighborhood protection ordinance that granted the team permission to hold more night games, the Cubs are required to operate a free lot that can hold up to 1,000 cars in order to ease congestion around the ballpark.
The stipulation, effective through 2024, contained additional specifications for the lot: It must operate during night and weekend games, as well as concerts, and must be outside the boundaries of the LV-2 permit parking area surrounding Wrigley Field but not more than 5 miles from the stadium.
The team settled on leasing a property at 3900 N. Rockwell Ave., which is owned by Basic Wire and Cable and sits adjacent to homes, Revere Park and the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club.
More than 75 neighbors turned out Tuesday night for a nearly two-hour public forum that at times turned heated as attendees vented their anger over the arrangement and what they said was a lack of community input prior to the deal being struck.
Concerns ranged from the potential for bad behavior by drunken fans to the safety of children participating in summer programs at the park and club with the influx of 1,000 extra cars.
Kam Buckner, manager of government and neighborhood relations, and Matt Kenny, senior director of event operations, fielded questions on behalf of the Cubs.
"It's insulting that the first conversation you're having with this neighborhood is four days away" from Opening Day, said Pat O'Brien. "You should be telling us what the plan is. We shouldn't have to play 20 questions to pull this out of you."
In May, the Cubs talked about the lot as a possible remote parking location. A press release detailing the location and the number of cars was sent out March 17.
Buckner attempted to ward off neighbors' worries about trash, vandalism and disorderly behavior by saying, "This lot is not a Soldier Field-type tailgate lot. We do not want to come in here and make life a living hell for you guys."
In an interview with DNAinfo Chicago Wednesday, Cubs spokesman Julian Green said, "It bears to mention there are fans who are coming to enjoy games as families.
"They want to come to the game and get home safely," he said.
The Cubs report on 2013 usage of the DeVry lot showed that 14,259 cars parked there over the course of 54 night and weekend games and two concerts, for an average of 259 cars per game. In 2014, the new lot would be in use for 61 games and two concerts, with neighbors arguing that the lure of free parking is bound to attract more drivers.
Todd Cywinski, whose home abuts the lot, complained about the likelihood of added traffic.
"All the side streets around here are going to be parking lots," he said.
The goal of the new remote lot is actually to alleviate traffic, Green said.
"This is not as much about the parking as it is about traffic and congestion, which can be experienced far from the park," from Lake Shore Drive to the Kennedy Expy., he said.
A large percentage of Cubs fans come from the suburbs to attend games, exiting the Kennedy Expy. and creating gridlock miles from the ballpark on streets such as Irving Park Road, he said.
"The attempt is to absorb traffic coming off the expressway and not congesting Irving Park or Addison," Green said.
Aside from traffic, Cywinski was also concerned about the quality of life for his family.
"My daughters will have their bedrooms 40 feet from the lot, and they'll be trying to go to sleep. Our grill is 50 feet away, and that's not a fun place to barbecue," Cywinski said.
"We moved here eight years ago to be part of a quiet, close-knit community," he said, citing the proximity to good schools and parks as major draws. "And the Cubs put a parking lot in the middle of all that."
Whereas Lakeview residents know what they're getting into when they buy or rent near the ballpark, Cywinski said, "We intentionally did not live close to a parking lot for the Cubs. It's completely insane."
As North Center residents see it, Wrigleyville put Cubs-related congestion woes in their lap.
"You pull traffic away from Tom Tunney and give it to us," said Deirdra Baumstark, referring to the 44th Ward alderman who serves Wrigleyville residents.
Because the property already is a parking lot, and the agreement to lease the land was made between private parties, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said he was in no position to block the deal.
"It doesn't require any aldermanic oversight. I wish it did," Pawar said. "You have one private entity allowed to make a deal with another private entity. But don't think I'm going to shirk my responsibility to protect you from the Cubs. When there is a hammer that I can use, we will use it."
As irate as neighbors were over the lot, they expressed equal frustration with the lack of concrete details provided by Buckner and Kenny, neither of whom was able to answer a question about the length of the parking lease.
"This is the worst presentation I've ever seen. There's no renderings, no traffic study, you brought us nothing," neighbor Paul Rosenfeld said. "You didn't think about the impact of bringing 1,000 cars to our neighborhood. You can't even tell us how long the contract is — it's incredible."
Green responded that the Cubs signed a four-year lease, good through 2018.
The Cubs representatives did promise to provide answers to queries regarding, among other things, how many security guards will man the lot, the potential for erecting fences around the lot and the phone number for the Town Hall Police District's Cubs hotline.
The first test of the lot's impact on the community comes Saturday, when the Cubs take on the Phillies at 1:20 p.m.
"We don't think it's going to cause as big a commotion as you think it will," Buckner said.
To which residents replied with shouts of, "Is it in your neighborhood?"
With the agreement just in its first year, Green called for patience.
"We're going to evaluate, we're going to listen," he said.
Though Tuesday's meeting may have been the team's first with North Center residents, it wouldn't be the last, Green said.
"We certainly believe there will be more opportunities to get feedback."
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.