Another round of negotiations over the future of Wrigley Field is underway, with Wrigleyville’s alderman, Cubs officials and local residents staking out positions on how an outdoor plaza on the west side of the historic ballpark should operate.
Live music and other activities could take place at the plaza along Clark Street until 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on weekends as part of a proposal Ald. Tom Tunney will introduce to set rules at the outdoor fan area the Ricketts family is building.
Beer and wine could be sold during those same hours at the plaza under an ordinance that Tunney, 44th, plans to bring forward at next week’s City Council meeting. However, alcohol sales would stop during games, concerts and other events taking place in Wrigley Field and could not resume until an hour after the events end.
Construction continues on the future Cubs office building, with the west side of the ballpark at right and the area the Cubs want to be a concourse with live music, events and alcohol sales in the foreground.
The plaza plan has been controversial since the Ricketts family introduced the idea as part of a massive Wrigley renovation, which also includes the new digital video boards, new clubhouses and other changes.
The family is trying to find ways to boost revenue at the park, and persuading famously bacchanalian Cubs fans to put more of their pre- and postgame beer money into the team’s pocket rather than the cash registers of the dozens of bars in the vicinity is one way to do that. The owners also want to hold events on nongame days to maximize the appeal of Wrigley Field, one of the most visited tourist destinations in Illinois.
But some bar owners aren’t pleased that the team will soon operate what amounts to the biggest beer garden in Wrigleyville, against which they will have to compete for patrons during the baseball season when they rely on big crowds to help cover costs for the rest of the year. And residents of the area are worried that the new plaza will add to the noise and drunken crowds they cope with in summer.
People would be able to take drinks from the plaza into the stadium for games under Tunney’s ordinance, which could be changed after he introduces it Wednesday. The proposal could get a committee hearing during the next month, though there are still several points of contention on the management of the site.
As with most issues involving the ballpark in the middle of the densely populated North Side neighborhood, it’s going to be extremely difficult to balance what people living there want with what the team owners hope to achieve.
Ricketts family spokesman Dennis Culloton said the closing times and plaza alcohol sale rules in Tunney’s plan are needlessly restrictive. “We would like to see something more like 10 p.m. (weeknights) and 11 p.m. (Fridays and Saturdays),” Culloton said.
“Overall, we’re glad the alderman is moving forward and applaud efforts to help us move forward with the plaza, which will bring economic development to the neighborhood year-round,” he said. “That said, the restrictions on beer and wine sales go too far, and we would like to continue discussing that.”
Jill Peters, president of the Southport Neighbors Association, said residents are OK with the closing times Tunney has proposed, but they want to make sure there are reasonable caps on how many concerts and other “large-scale events” the Cubs can hold in the plaza.
“If the ballgame ends at 3 p.m., are there going to be bands playing and large crowds in the plaza until 10 p.m. every weekend? That’s a long time,” Peters said.
Peters and Will DeMille, president of the Lake View Citizens’ Council, said a key to reaching a workable compromise will be the standards set out in a “plan of operation” that will accompany the ordinance.
“The Cubs talk about farmers markets, an ice rink and movies in the park nights in the plaza, and those are things that many people who live in the area support,” DeMille said. “But we need the plan of operation to set out how many of those types of events will be held there. We want to make sure this becomes a spot that families can enjoy, and not just a beer garden with amplified concerts and private corporate events all summer.”
Peters and DeMille said the neighborhood organizations hope to have a month or two to negotiate the terms of the plan of operation before the ordinance gets a full City Council vote.
Tunney’s outdoor plaza rules would be applicable to all sports stadiums in Chicago.
The alderman originally introduced plaza rules in 2013, framing the outdoor space as a way to draw people to the neighborhood for events during the months when there isn’t baseball and local businesses suffer. But residents expressed concerns about the potential noise from bands and other events at night there, and he shelved the idea to get more community input.