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Neighbors Conflict On Wrigley Renovations: We Have A Seat At The Table; No, We Don’t

By Geoff Dankert | Thursday, May 2, 2013
A rendering released yesterday of the new "Triangle Plaza" on Clark, just north of Addison Ave. Left, the proposed boutique 175-room Sheraton Hotel. Center is a proposed mixed-building with 75 parking spaces, a 40,000-square-foot Chicago Athletic Club, a McDonald's and other retail.

A rendering released yesterday of the new “Triangle Plaza” on Clark, just north of Addison Ave. Left, the proposed boutique 175-room Sheraton Hotel. Center is a proposed mixed-building with 75 parking spaces, a 40,000-square-foot Chicago Athletic Club, a McDonald’s and other retail.

Denizens of Wrigley Field call it the “knothole:” the fenced open section along Sheffield Avenue where passersby can peek in from the sidewalk to watch a Cubs game. And if you listen to representatives from some of the neighborhood groups ringing the ballpark, that’s the only perspective they have of the ongoing talks aimed at renovating what the Cubs call “the friendly confines.”

“We don’t have a seat at the table,” said attorney Jill Peters, who as head of the Southport Neighbors Association represents the most vocal opposition to many of owner Tom Ricketts’ plans for the area around Clark and Addison. “I don’t really know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Indeed, none of the neighborhood groups with a stake in the future of the ballpark are directly represented at conversations between the Cubs and the city of Chicago. Instead, their interests are being represented by 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney. Tunney attended a meeting of SNA members back on April 22nd to brief them on the latest plans for the area around the ballpark, and Lake View Citizens Council president (and West Lakeview Neighbors’ president) Will DeMille said his organization is in touch with Tunney or his office “a few times a week” on the issue. “These are very similar conversations that are held monthly throughout the city about business and entertainment issues,” he said.

The lack of a direct voice in the negotiations over night games, the seven-story hotel and retail complex planned for the current McDonald’s location across Clark Street from the ballpark, and other neighborhood issues also does not seem to concern Wrigleyville Neighbors president Bridget O’Rourke. That’s likely because her group is most supportive of the Cubs’ wish list. “We want to be a voice to let them know that there are residents who support what they want to do,” she said, adding that WN has had no direct discussions with Tunney or his office. “We would be happy to sit down with him,” she said.

But how much direct input is realistic for neighborhood groups to expect in a massive, multi-million dollar project like this? “It’s kind of hard to quantify, but I would say a decent amount,” says Tunney’s chief of staff Bennett Lawson. “We’ve run anything that requires an ordinance change or a (planned development) through the community.”

What’s being presented is causing some concern for both Peters’ and DeMille’s groups. Peters says the plan for that 91-foot-tall hotel and retail complex is “out of scale” for the one- and two-story buildings already on Clark Street, and raises concerns that other developers will build even taller buildings in response to the new arrival. DeMille points out that while the hotel proposal puts it at roughly the height of the ballpark, it will come up against residential areas west of Clark. “On Cubs game days, how are the cabs and traffic going to impact the people on Patterson and Racine?” he asked. “[Those are] some of the details the Cubs will get into as part of the proposed [planned development ordinance].”

O’Rourke said her group is unconcerned about the scale of the hotel and its impact on traffic in the area. “I don’t think it’s going to be out of place in the neighborhood,” she said. “In the off-season, it’ll be nice to have a place where [neighbors' families] can stay and not have to go downtown. It’s economic growth for the whole community.”

Up until now, the size of the development has been largely unknown, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s insistence that the team and the city have worked out “a framework of an understanding.” Now that specifics and renditions are being made public, Lawson says Tunney and the Cubs are beginning to share those details with the park’s neighbors.

“There is a lot of detail that has to run through the community,” Lawson told Center Square Journal. “The Cubs are now doing presentations to all the community groups.” Work is also progressing on a comprehensive traffic study of the area that may inspire more changes when it is completed in the next month. Already, Peters called the Cubs’ offer for 500 additional remote parking spaces for fans a “positive step forward.”

But when Cubs executives get around to briefing the Southport Neighbors, they may want to prepare a charm offensive. SNA’s Jill Peters says the rapport and framework the team established with the group over years of Tribune Co. ownership “appears to be off the table.” She then went on to use phrases like “bad start” and “ill will” to describe the association’s initial contacts with the Cubs under Ricketts. “Can it be turned around? I hope so,” Peters continued. “They’re trying to backtrack.” DeMille said LVCC has a “healthy” relationship with the Cubs. “We’ve worked through issues. To me this is just another milestone with the relationship between the neighborhood and the Cubs.”

“I’m putting my good faith in the process,” Peters continued. “[Tunney] is doing a great job trying to represent our interests. I’m very hopeful that this community process will be more than symbolic. I hope that the mayor is listening.”

Of course, this is the same mayor who told City Hall reporters in March that the time had passed for negotiating on controversial plans to close dozens of Chicago public schools, even though hearings were still on the calendar and a Board of Education vote was five weeks away.

Does the city’s apparent process for school closings give Peters reason for concern about how Wrigley Field changes will be done? “Absolutely,” she said. “The mayor is putting pressure on us to compromise. He’s taking big risks by making so many demands on our community.”

And as Ricketts suggests the Cubs would consider moving out of its longtime home if it does not get additional electronic signs inside Wrigley Field, Peters has a veiled threat of her own when asked what might happen if the community’s concerns were dismissed: “Well, there was an Illinois Supreme Court case that held a community has rights with respect to night games.” She quickly added that it would be “premature” to discuss specific actions. DeMille said from LVCC’s standpoint, talks with the Cubs are “nowhere near” any kind of breaking point.

However, the neighbors are committed to making their voices heard, even if they are reduced to yelling through the “knothole” on Sheffield.

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  • Audrey

    People are complaining that it’s Rickett’s team and he can do what he
    wants. However, the issues among the Wrigley neighbors, rooftop
    businesses and the Cubs have been going on for DECADES. He should have
    known that buying the Cubs was not the same as buying some other team
    that isn’t as connected to their ball park. Honestly, I’m tired of him
    and his whining. If he wants to take the Cubs elsewhere, that’s fine by
    me. The neighborhood will survive and I’ll even venture there more
    often during the summer.

    Audrey
    Lincoln Square Neighbor

    • Greg Kane

      Last I checked we still live in America and the Ricketts family doesn’t need to pander to your little wishes. If you don’t venture to the area nobody will lose any sleep because tens of thousands of us will.

  • Mike

    Wrigley Field was built in 1914. If you moved in after this date, you have no case or legit reason to complain about the ballpark. You moved into the neighborhood knowing it was there and that there would be traffic, parking, pedestrian, alcohol, and other baseball related issues. Don’t like dealing with these issues? Then feel free to move out. Second, Southport isn’t Wrigleyville. It’s not even you’re neighborhood. Why they feel they have the right to complain is hilarious. Third, Wrigley and the bar areas around it are the only thing keeping real estate prices up in the area. Otherwise, you’re neighborhood will become another UPTOWN if the Cubs leave. You’re property values depend on the Cubs being in the neighborhood. Finally, the Cubs are investing 500 million into the neighborhood. I would love for someone to invest 500 million into my neighborhood.

    • Ron

      When you learn what Southport Neighbors is, then maybe you will have something relevant to say here.

      • Greg Kane

        I find what Mike said to be very relevant. On the flip side I really don’t care what the Southport Neighbors are…

    • JGMc

      Southport actually is Wrigleyville. We’re three blocks west of the ballpark and have to deal with the same crowds and traffic as Clark Street. This isn’t a complaint, it’s a fact. Yes, Wrigley Field has been around a long time, but don’t try telling a surrounding neighborhood that’s been around equally as long that we have nothing to say about what goes on around here — we do. I have no problem with the Cubs or the baseball season, but I also support my neighbors and their concerns and I’m happy to know there are local groups who are watching these negotiations carefully. Neighborhoods without active neighbors get walked on. Finally, this is a beautiful, solid area located in a very desirable part of the city, with great schools, dining, and transportation options. We will continue to thrive with or without the Cubs.

  • LV2Resident

    Geoff, thank you for posting this. But to be clear, Wrigleyville Neighbors are group put together by the Cubs. They don’t necessarily live in the neighborhood either. Please listen to this podcast from WBEZ. https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/130329-morning-shift-seg-a
    They do not represent the area around Wrigleyville in any way. They represent the Cubs. Astroturfing…

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