This rendering shows three scoreboards and video screens in place in a Wrigley renovation plan. | Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media
Cubs: Landmarks panel expected to OK Wrigley renovation plan
The Cubs said Monday they’re on the July 10 agenda for the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and expect to win approval for their revised plan to renovate Wrigley Field — including seven outfield signs, two of them video scoreboards — after a tweak to accommodate Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“We’re not prepared to lose another year and jeopardize delivering on the promises we made to our players, our fans and our [advertising] partners,” said Cubs spokesman Julian Green.
“We believe the revised expansion plan fits within the guidelines of the Landmarks Commission. We’re confident we’ve addressed all of the outstanding issues and should be going through with our revised plan on July 10. We took the widening of the bullpen doors off the table. The only material change was those doors.”
Eleanor Gorski, landmarks chief for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, could not be reached for comment. The July 10 agenda was not yet posted on the landmarks commission’s website.
Last month, Emanuel’s now-departed intergovernmental affairs director Matt Hynes hinted strongly that the Cubs’ stay in the mayor’s doghouse — caused by the wider bullpen doors — would be short-lived.
“That was a minor setback, but one that can be overcome. I don’t think it was an intentional effort on the Cubs part to sneak the goods through Customs,” Hynes said then.
“Once it came to the mayor’s attention, he made his opinion pretty clear. But you’ve got to look at the big picture. It’s important to have the Cub investment in the park and in the community go forward. So, you move past it. There’s not a whole lot to be gained from harboring bitterness when you’re trying to get a deal done.”
Hynes didn’t flinch when asked about Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts’ decision to cut off negotiations with rooftop club owners and return to his original plan for seven outfield signs.
“The Cubs perspective is, 'If we’re going to be going to court, let’s make it all or nothing.’ There is a certain amount of logic to that point of view. They own Wrigley Field. While there are restrictions, they have a right to at least seek the ability to do what they want with their park,” Hynes said.
“It’s not for the mayor and certainly not for me to tell them they don’t have that right. So, we support their right to do what they think is appropriate. But there is a process. They know that and they have to go through it.”
In late May, the Cubs declared an impasse with rooftop club owners after months of nowhere negotiations and unveiled a revised plan that literally invites their revenue-sharing partners to file their long-threatened lawsuit.
The plan called for seven outfield signs, including two video scoreboards, 300 new seats, 300 standing room positions and new outfield light standards rising 92 feet high.
The plan that added $75 million to the $300 million pricetag of the stadium renovation project also included: a 30,000 square foot home clubhouse in a two-level basement beneath an outdoor plaza; a 200-seat restaurant; and 200-person auditorium behind the home dugout and three or four rows of additional bleacher seats.
Some of the new seats would have been created by relocating the home and visiting bullpens from foul territory to a protected area beneath the expanded bleachers that give relief pitchers a view of the field. Larger bullpen doors would have disturbed the century-old stadium’s ivy-covered brick walls.
That blindsided and infuriated Emanuel, whose administration had spent months working with the Cubs to finalize the expanded sign plan.
The mayor got even with the Cubs by yanking the plan off last month’s Landmarks Commission agenda.
To get out of the mayor’s doghouse and get the revised stadium project back on track for a July groundbreaking, the Cubs dropped plans to double the width of the bullpen doors and apologized for the team’s failure to communicate with City Hall.
Plans to move the left- and right-field walls near the existing bullpens to create more seating have not been changed.
Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, had no comment on the Cubs’ plan to win Landmarks Commission approval next week.
Nor would he respond to Monday’s other bit of bad news for rooftop club owners who share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs. A Circuit Court judge dismissed the rooftops’ lawsuit against a stadium financing consultant who once advised the Cubs’ prior owner, the Tribune Co.
In the suit, the rooftops had accused Marc Ganis of making false and defamatory statements about them, in violation of their revenue-sharing agreement, in a January 2013 story published by the Chicago Sun-Times.
In the story, Ganis called the rooftop roadblock “one of the most ludicrous situations in the history of sports facility development. . . . Protecting carpetbaggers stealing the product paid for by others for their own profit and, thereby, stopping a $300 million investment.”
On Monday, Ganis argued that the speed with which Judge William Gomolinski upheld his right to speak freely — at the earliest possible stage before discovery or trial — speaks volumes about rooftop club owners.
“Are the rooftops so delusional that they think they can stop a person’s First Amendment rights and, if they’re that delusional about something as basic as that, have they had the same delusional approach toward their contract with the Cubs and, if so, is that one of the primary reasons there hasn’t been resolution yet?” Ganis said.
“It’s important to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s inconvenient or costly. In this case, I stood up for what I thought was inappropriate use of the political system for the rooftop owners’ profit," he said. "Then, I stood up for the First Amendment right to make that argument.
"Every now and then, what’s right is what the result is. They had to lose this case or it could have stifled political discourse in Cook County for years to come.”
In his 20-page opinion, Gomolinski agreed with Ganis’ argument that he was simply “characterizing certain expansion opponents as opportunists who were holding up a stadium deal — not criminals who have committed an indictable offense.”
The outspoken remarks are “constitutionally protected opinion” and, therefore, “not actionable in a false light claim,” the judge wrote.
“The natural and obvious meaning of Ganis’s statements is that the opponents to the Cubs’ proposal were opportunists benefiting and profiting from a product they did not create,” the opinion states.