Wrigley Plaza Plan OK’d By City Committee, Unhappy Cubs Call It ‘Bizarre’

A City Council committee cleared the way for a Wrigley Field plaza Tuesday — but not the type of plaza the Chicago Cubs envisioned.

The ordinance — forged from a deal between Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — restricts access to the plaza and would also prohibit the Cubs from using an outdoor patio liquor license for the plaza itself.

Tunney’s ordinance declares: “Wrigley Plaza is hereby established,” but with access limited to ticket holders, and with liquor sales shut off at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on weekends.

Emanuel backed the proposal earlier this month, even as the Cubs insisted they were blindsided by it. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had previously pushed for more team autonomy over the space, between the park proper and Clark Street to the west of the stadium.

The Cubs remained unsatisfied with the deal Tuesday, said Mike Lufrano, vice president of community affairs.

The ordinance as it stands “will lessen the promise of this plaza,” he said. The club wants to open the plaza to fans without tickets, in part to cut back on overcrowding on streets like during home playoff games in 2003.

A previously unannounced change would add language to the city’s law on liquor licenses prohibiting them for venues with a capacity above 250 people.

With the committee’s blessing, the ordinance will go before City Council for final approval Wednesday. It would now sunset in three years — compared to the previous two — to allow the community to reassess the restrictions after Wrigley Field renovations are complete. The plaza is expected to be ready for use in the fall, possibly in time for a postseason run.

The ordinance requires tickets to access the plaza during games and ballpark concerts, which Tunney said was a vital component in keeping ballpark capacity at about 41,000.

It also enforces the limit of 12 special events on the plaza per year, with an added restriction on small concerts. Out of the 12 events, only five can be concerts.

Other special events are those with attendance of at least 1,000 people, amplified sound or alcohol sales. That would also include allowing fans on the plaza to watch away playoff games if alcohol is sold, Tunney said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) listens to a Chicago Cubs fan during a committee hearing regarding the Wrigley Field plaza ordinance. [DNAinfo/Ted Cox]

The Cubs consider the latest draft “a bizarre set of parameters,” said spokesman Julian Green, “which further restricts us from operating the plaza as an unique asset that’s accessible to the entire community.

Green said the Cubs owners would essentially have to “build a wall to keep out non-ticket holders” during games and concerts. Limiting special events also “jeopardize” watch parties during the playoffs, “which are commonplace at stadiums across the country.”

Neighbors voiced concerns that the Cubs would use the plaza to host frequent, loud concerts or music festivals as special events, which can last up to 10 days.

“I want the Cubs to win the World Series. I want them to be prosperous,” said Mark Church, a Lakeview resident. “I just want it to be harmonious with the surrounding community.” Specifically, he asked to keep away “Ozzy Osbourne cover bands,” and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) jokingly agreed to back a citywide ban.

The Wrigley Field plaza should be complete in the fall, with the office building at its north end is expected to wrap up in January. [Provided/Chicago Cubs]

For neighbors, the ordinance is “at best, a compromise,” said Jim Spencer, president of the East Lake View Neighbors. “It’s not everything the neighborhood wants, and it’s certainly not everything the Cubs want.”

Tunney did allow alcohol sales beyond his previously set cutoff time. With the current draft, the plaza will remain open and alcohol can be sold until the end of night games and for an extra hour after day games.

Alcohol sales will end at 11 p.m., even if a game continues past that time. For concerts and other special events, alcohol sales stop one hour prior to the end of the event.

It’s been five months of negotiations over the Wrigley Field plaza ordinance proposed in January. While the Cubs prefer the 2013 draft modeled after Navy Pier, Tunney brought forward an even-stricter version in May.

As progress stalled, the Cubs applied separately for an outdoor patio liquor license, saying the team couldn’t afford to wait any longer.

It creates a $1,760 license, equivalent to an outdoor patio, but sets restrictions that the Wrigley Plaza may only serve bill and wine in plastic cups with no package liquor, and only to fans attending a Cubs game or concert at Wrigley Field.

It sets fines of $300-$5,000 for violations.

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