Short of cash, Cubs postpone parking garage

August 22, 2006

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Wrigleyville will apparently have to wait for the 400-space parking garage that was supposed to follow a 1,790-seat expansion of the Wrigley Field bleachers: The $30 million project is on hold because of rising costs.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said the Cubs have told him they're "looking for some additional financial resources" to build a five-story, triangular building expected to house a parking garage, upscale restaurants, retail stores and rooftop garden above ground and batting cages, pitching mounds and workout facilities for Cubs players below.

Construction was supposed to start this fall and last for at least 18 months. Now, nobody knows when ground will be broken -- or whether the Cubs will be forced to scale down a project tailor-made to ease the Wrigleyville parking crunch and turn an eyesore into a neighborhood asset.

"It's a big project. It's an expensive project. They're a little concerned about finding the money. . . . They're committed to building it. They're just concerned about the cost of it," Tunney said.

"They're looking to find some partnering opportunities with other companies in the city, possibly some naming rights. I would assume they might try to bring in somebody who wants their name on Wrigley Field."

Tunney said neither the City Council nor community residents would have approved the long-stalled bleacher expansion without a guarantee that land currently used to provide surface parking for 200 cars would be turned into a 400-space garage for year-round use by residents and businesses.

"The issue is, they've got 1,790 seats without any additional parking. That's the concern the community has and I have. It's a two-way street. They've got to find the resources to build this thing. This 400-car garage right on Clark Street will help the retail corridor immensely," he said.

No public money, Cubs say

"I'm not at all concerned that it will never happen. It's postponed. They've got a commitment they made to the community, and we're going to make sure they stand by it."

Mike Lufrano, vice president for community relations for the Cubs, acknowledged the timetable and design are in limbo.

"The Cubs very much want to build the project. We know it would be a great asset to the team -- and it helps the community. Like many construction projects, though, the costs have gone up and we need to make sure we understand the economics and build the right project," Lufrano said.

Lufrano denied that the construction delay has anything to do with financial problems that have beset Tribune Co., corporate owner of the Cubs. "It's about the cost of the project and having it make economic sense," he said.

Lufrano was asked whether the Cubs might ultimately request a taxpayer subsidy for the $30 million project. "That's not something we've ever done. . . . Everything at Wrigley Field has always been privately funded," he said.

Jointly designed by Kansas City, Mo.-based HOK Sports Facilities Group and Chicago restoration architect John Vinci, the original plan called for the Cubs to fill the property with a triangular building with rounded edges and a rooftop garden.

The 400-space garage would have provided a net increase of 200 spaces from the surface lots it would replace. The building would have been linked directly to the stadium by a pair of overhead breezeways -- one open-air, the other covered.

Cubs have until 2008

The brick-lined pedestrian promenade patterned after the one at Fenway Park in Boston would have been located between the stadium and the new building on land that was once a continuation of Seminary Avenue. The company paid $2.1 million to purchase the land from the city.

The Cubs have used the land for decades as a players parking lot. A search of century-old documents determined that Chicago taxpayers owned the land and that the Tribune Co. bought it for $150,000, shortly after purchasing the Cubs in 1982, from a railroad that didn't have the right to sell it.

The triangular building was included in the "plan development" that paved the way for the bleacher expansion. It requires the Cubs to provide at least 179 new parking spaces -- one space for every 10 new bleacher seats -- before the start of the 2008 season. If the garage shrinks below that number or is eliminated entirely, the Cubs must provide enough surface parking to replace those spaces.

fspielman@suntimes.com


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