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Cubs Win Aldermen's Blessing To Push Back Outfield Walls

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 11, 2013 3:30PM

Here's the proposed mini-triangle development at Addison and Sheffield. The Party Deck would hang over Sheffield, if approved. (Image credit: Chicago Cubs)

The Chicago Cubs’ efforts to move Wrigley Field’s outfield walls back as part of their renovation plan cleared another hurdle Tuesday. The City Council Transportation Committee approved the proposal to push back the right field wall along Sheffield Avenue 15 feet, while the left field wall along Waveland Avenue would move back 16 feet.

The ballclub has maintained its position that moving the walls back would allow them to erect signage they say is integral to funding the ballpark’s renovation without taxpayer funds while allowing rooftop clubs surrounding Wrigley Field to maintain their views inside the park. The plan would also allow the Cubs to establish “party decks” in both fields. The plan would maintain two-way traffic on both Sheffield and Waveland but eliminates 58 parking spots the Cubs promised they would replace with free parking in surrounding neighborhood lots.

There is some controversy as to how the plan was approved. Normally the city commissions two separate appraisals in cases involving vacating public property for private use and splits the difference between the two. In this instance the Transportation Committee relied on an appraisal paid for by the Cubs that valued the land and the air space above it at a combined $4 million. This raises the question of whether the city will be fairly compensated if the full City Council approves the proposal. Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he was “quite taken aback” the city didn’t commission its own appraisal of the vacated space.

Aldermen are also questioning why the Emanuel administration isn’t requiring more compensation to Chicago taxpayers beyond the $4.75 million the Cubs have already committed to the surrounding neighborhood. The Ricketts family will contribute $3.75 million over the next decade to the “Cub Fund,” a discretionary account for neighborhood infrastructure projects under the control of the mayor and the four aldermen whose wards surround the ballpark. The remaining money is earmarked to build a park on School Street.

Alderman Jason Ervin (28th) called the appraisal “a $4 million subsidy” which drew a mild rebuke from Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) who called the vacation ordinance a “much negotiated plan to keep the Cubs in Chicago…without major public subsidies.”

“Almost every sports team in America has some lucrative package to either retain or to attract the kind of neighborhood that…is one of the best in the country,” Tunney added.

The street vacation will be among many outstanding aspects of the Wrigley Field renovation plan City Council hopes to settle at today’s meeting. Even if those loose ends are tied, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said he will not begin renovations unless he receives assurances the rooftop clubs will not sue to prevent erecting a Jumbotron in left field and another static sign in right field.