Even With City Approval, Cubs Rooftop Battle Not Over

Even With City Approval, Cubs Rooftop Battle Not Over

As you may know by now, the Cubs got their approval from the Landmarks Committee to go ahead with their expansion and renovation of Wrigley Field. This includes putting up seven new signs in the outfield, not just two. At least one rooftop won't be blocked, but that one is owned, at least in part, by the Ricketts family.

If you want to read all the details of the approval, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune has them for you here. This is fantastic news for those of us who have been following along with the story that seems like it began ages ago. It looks like the Cubs are finally going to get shovels in the ground soon.

Of course, the approval isn't being celebrated by everyone. The Cubs rooftop battle is far from over.

The Wrigleyville Rooftop Association has threatened litigation in the past, regarding the two-sign approval that would block one of their buildings. The Cubs tried to negotiate a deal, supposedly offering $50 million to move past the threat of a lawsuit. Rumor has it that the rooftops wanted $250 million.

There is a lot of misinformation and politicking that has been put out by both sides in the last few years, mostly for posturing and attempting to gain leverage. So pardon me if you have seen some of this before, but I wanted to attempt to help everyone see this clearly for what it is.

Alderman Tom Tunney (44th District) has been vocal in his opposition of the plan, arguing vehemently against both the original plan last year and the new one this year. He asked residents to voice their objections at the Landmarks Committee approval meeting as well. Enjoy a few thoughts from Mr. Tunney, courtesy of DNAinfo Chicago:

“"The neighborhood gave a lot of concessions to pass this planned development," Tunney added. "We literally rolled out the red carpet to keep the team at the historic corner of Clark and Addison."

"If there's a permit issued for a sign, I believe there will be a lawsuit," Tunney said. "And then the courts will decide."

Tunney said he represented neighborhood residents and that the bright signs were a quality-of-life issue in that they could be a "nuisance" for blocks around, but he had also received campaign contributions from Wrigley rooftop firms.”

Of course he had. Why else would he be so against a renovation project that benefits Lakeview (his territory) so much? Here are a few important notes from an April 15th, 2014 post at Cubs.com, regarding the parts of the renovation that will take effect outside Wrigley Field:

-New parking plan: The Cubs will offer 1,000 free remote parking spots with shuttle to Wrigley Field for all night and weekend games.

-New comprehensive traffic management plan: New traffic lights will be installed on Clark Street. One traffic light (cost: $350,000) to be paid by the Cubs and two to be paid for from the existing CubFund.

-New public safety plan: Thirty additional safety personnel will be outside the park after games to ensure public safety (10 of which will be provided by Cubs).

-The Cubs will contribute $1 million to School Street play lot funding effort ($250,000 to come from first year's infrastructure contribution).

-A $1 million commitment to fund a new park and playlot at 1230 W. School.

-$3.75 million donated by the Cubs for community infrastructure and amenities ($500,000 per year from 2014-18 and $250,000 per year from 2019-23).

-A $500 million investment to create jobs, improve the community appearance, enhance the neighborhood and upgrade undeveloped, underutilized and unattractive existing space.

-An open-air plaza outside the ballpark with the ability to continue hosting an ice rink in the winter and add farmers' markets in the summer, free family activities and other community events.

-A premium hotel, in partnership with Starwood, that will include 175 rooms, plus a 40,000-square-foot health club with retail and food and beverage options for fans and for the community throughout the year.

-Free remote parking, replacing the current $6 remote parking fee.

-A commitment to work with the Chicago Police Department and its special police detail unit to place additional officers on duty during Cubs events on Thursday to Sunday nights.

-A comprehensive traffic study to address new opportunities to reduce traffic congestion during Wrigley Field events.

-Continue the relationship with the Lakeview community, which included donations from Chicago Cubs Charities of $323,000 to Lakeview in 2012.

The Cubs are using a ton of their own money for community improvement, all while paying for and executing a massive renovation project that will make the 3rd largest tourist attraction in Illinois viable for the future. The signage will allow for new advertising revenues that will help fund the project, in addition to creating more opportunity for the baseball operations to improve the team (yay!).

As for that lawsuit threat, the Cubs have essentially told them to bring it on. Cubs spokesman Julian Green had this to say about negotiating on the signage: “The signage we got approved today is the signage that we're going to move forward with. Period.” Sounds pretty straight forward to me.

I won't pretend to have a law degree, but I will tell you that I have a basic understanding of contract law and arbitration as a result of my education. When going to arbitration (which is where this lawsuit would go, per the contract between the Cubs and the rooftops), the language of the contract is always the most important aspect.

Here is the pertinent language in the contract, along with a piece of the original approval from the city of Chicago, courtesy of David Kaplan at CSN Chicago.

From the contract: “6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

From the City Council of Chicago: “"Specifically, but without limitation, Applicant shall have the right to expand the Wrigley Field bleachers to install (i) a new video board in left field, which may include an LED sign, a neon illuminated sign above it and two light towers to assist in outfield lighting; and (ii) a neon sign in right field, which signage has been approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and, in addition to being part of the bleacher expansion, and along with all other signage contemplated by this Planned Development, is integral to the expansion and renovation of Wrigley Field and the development and redevelopment of the Property as contemplated herein.”

The important parts are bolded, and lends to the idea that because all the signage has been approved by the appropriate governmental bodies, they are not a violation of the contract. I reached out to an old college professor that used to work with the NFL Player's Association to garner an opinion on this situation, and his thoughts aligned with mine; barring some sort of unforeseen event, any lawsuit should end in a ruling favoring the Cubs erecting their signs.

Whether you think signage at your precious cathedral of losing baseball in the 50's is an abomination or you applaud the modernization of your favorite ballpark and opening of revenue streams to improve your favorite ball club, you should still celebrate this day.

With the AAA Iowa Cubs ready to burst talent all over the Major League roster and the new advertising revenues projected to come quickly, this could mean an ability for the Cubs to put out a winning product sooner rather than later. In the end, that's what will be best for everyone involved. And it's the only part that Chicago politics can't attempt to ruin.

Winning baseball at beautiful Wrigley Field.


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  • So basically the rooftop owners nothing to stand on?

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Kevin- I don't believe so, based on what we know. I think a lawsuit is the last act of a desperate group of people. I think they committed to this early on and overplayed their hand. The cubs were willing to settle with them (even though they knew the didn't have to) just to get the renovation started.

    Now, the best case scenario for the rooftops is that the Cubs really badly want to get started, and call up with a settlement option. If the lawsuit happens, the Cubs will be delayed further, but the rooftops will be the loser in the long run.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    It doesn't look good, other than settling for sake of avoiding court.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I don't understand why they wouldn't take the 50 million, I bet they prob could have 75-80 million which is triple what their properties are worth.

    I would have loved to be one of those rooftop building owners, I would have sold and be laughing all the way to the bank.

    I have some property in Rogers park, any chance the Cubs want to move there ?

  • "When going to arbitration (which is where this lawsuit would go, per the contract between the Cubs and the rooftops)"

    That is absolutely correct. The only question I see of contract interpretation is the definition of "expansion," but I'll leave that to the arbitrators.

    Tunney is either bloviating because he owes his financial existence to the rooftop owners, or like many aldercreatures, is legally ignorant.*

    Besides that, they can't stop construction; the best they can hope is that the arbitrator awards them some money, which, as you indicate, is not likely.

    *I took care of Joe Moore on Chicago Political Commentary.

  • In reply to jack:

    You're right about all of that. They could try to file an injunction, but in a case like this with clear lines on dollars and value, a judge would simply allow construction with the idea that if he rules in favor of the rooftops, it would be with a damages award. But as stayed, the chances are slim of that happening.

  • In reply to Ryan Davis:

    For three reasons:
    1. An injunction will not be granted if there is an adequate remedy at law (i.e monetary damages), and the rooftop owners' only interest is money.
    2. Any remedy for a breach of contract is already prescribed in the contract, such as that the Cubs would pay 17% of the cost of raising the rooftop bleachers.
    3. Theoretically, an injunction could be obtained against a zoning violation, but Illinois legislation is quite clear that is only for a failure to provide proper notice, and the decision whether to grant special permits or the like made by the City Council is legislative and not subject to judicial review.

    Nobody here is claiming to be Aaron Montgomery Ward, who established an easement to be able to view Lake Michigan from Michigan Ave. Such property rights have not been asserted over Wrigley Field--only the contract.

  • You know the rooftoppers are grasping at straws when their latest complaint is that the proposed signage will interfere with the views of the buildings and skyline FROM WITHIN THE PARK! Ha! You know what interferes with the those views from within the park? Those grotesque two- and three-story bleachers that the rooftop owners erected on the tops of their buildings, to say nothing of the fact that we're there to watch the games, not the rooftops.

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