WRIGLEY FIELD — The Cubs played hardball Monday as top executives unveiled the Park at Wrigley, slamming local politicians for what the team considers unfair restrictions on the new plaza.
"Despite local political objections and unique restrictions that made this project far more risky and expensive, the Ricketts family never wavered in their support of the vision of the Park at Wrigley," said Crane Kenney, president of baseball operations and Hickory Street Capital.
But city officials cautioned that the "unique" restrictions laid out in the city's first-of-its-kind sports plaza ordinance were a necessary first step in testing out a new concept for Chicago.
"We want to make sure we're crawling before we walk and before we run," said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). "We definitely have some concerns about how [the plaza] is going to be managed — especially on game days — and that's why it's restrictive."
Only ticket holders can access the plaza on game days and concerts at the ballpark, which Kenney said was contrary to the Cubs' goal to "create a public park open to everyone year-round."
"We hope someday everyone can enjoy the park [without restrictions]," Kenney said.
The comments are a call back to the battle over the plaza ordinance last year, which reached a fever pitch in May. The Cubs, unwilling to wait on the city to wrap up stalled negotiations over the plaza ordinance, applied for an outdoor patio liquor license for the plaza in its stead.
Fans packed the new Park at Wrigley, lining up outside the new western gate to get into the ballpark ahead of Monday's home opener. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
At that time, the Cubs had fought for months to ease restrictions imposed in an earlier draft of the ordinance. Among the disputed rules were a ban on alcohol on the plaza during game days and concerts, prohibiting of special events and time limits.
Bar owners chimed in during the debate, asking the Cubs have "the same rules we follow," with outdoor patios and sidewalk cafes to prevent the plaza from taking too much business away from the vibrant Clark Street bars.
"All we're asking for is an even playing field so we're able to work and have the same opportunities," said Sam Sanchez, owner of John Barleycorn and Old Crow and secretary for the Illinois Restaurant Association.
With the plaza's capacity ranging between 4,000-6,000 people, not counting a restaurant opening later this year, bar owners feared that allowing everyone on the plaza during game days would seriously impact the Wrigleyville bars, which have a total capacity around 10,000.
The Park at Wrigley, which includes the triangle-shaped plaza, Starbucks Reserve and other amenities, opened Monday. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
But, as one fan pointed out Monday night, the bars around Wrigleyville are packed to capacity as it is.
"We need the space," said Daniel Lee, 33, who lives in Buena Park. "I spent a few games during the postseason watching from the street. If there's a spot for all of us to go to, I think that should be an issue in the postseason this year."
And Kenney said the Park at Wrigley deserved a chance to compete.
"I know there are local businesses who would like to see us limit the occupancy of the plaza on game days," he said. "We think let's open the thing up."
Some neighbors also said last year they wanted to see increased security and a limit on special events that could result in amplified sound playing in the neighborhood beyond the 80 home games and 10 stadium concerts already scheduled.
Only ticket holders are allowed on the plaza during game days as part of the city's ordinance dictating its use. While the public could access the strip of paved plaza and the plaza-facing building that holds Starbucks Reserve and the Cubs Store, the larger plaza area was blocked off for anyone without a ticket. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"Our concern is really for the safety of that intersection," Tunney told DNAinfo Monday. "We want everyone to have a good time, but be respectful of the amount of police resources that are needed."
The video board could be a distraction for drivers or for pedestrians who could walk into the street unaware, the alderman suggested.
"It's our job to protect the residents and see how it's working," he added.
Leaders of four neighborhood organizations agreed last year that the plaza's capacity merited restrictions beyond those of neighborhood bars or outdoor patios.
Chairman Tom Ricketts said in June that the Cubs deserved to operate the plaza as they saw fit and had compromised enough.
"The fact is, it's our property," Ricketts said during an annual luncheon for the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. "The right answer is to let us continue doing what we've already discussed."
In June, over the Cubs' objections, City Council approved an amended ordinance that allowed alcohol sales on the plaza during game days and concerts, but in turn restricted plaza access to ticket holders during such events.
Twelve special events were also allowed, with an added restriction on plaza concerts.
It also prohibited the Cubs from using an outdoor liquor license for the plaza, prohibiting such licenses for venues with a capacity above 250 people.
With the plaza open, neighbors will have free access to farmers markets, movie nights, mini concerts and ice skating on non-game days.
Kenney said the Cubs would continue to push for increased access to the plaza for the sake of Wrigleyville neighbors.
"We really appreciate your encouragement to continue pushing to make the Park at Wrigley free of charge — one that you could enjoy on game days as well," he said. "We'll keep working to convince the city that a free park is better than one you must pay to enter."
The Cubs and Wrigley Field are 95 percent owned by an entity controlled 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.