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Chicago panel approves Wrigley Field upgrade

Published: Thursday, July 10, 2014 4:36 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs have taken a step toward getting the city's permission for a Wrigley Field renovation project that is much bigger than one approved last year.

The city's landmarks commission on Thursday signed off on a project that includes a second video board, outfield signs as big as 650 square feet, light standards in the outfield and seats replacing the current bullpens down the foul lines. Those changes are in addition to a $500 million plan approved last year that would add a Jumbotron, among other things.

If the City Council follows by approving the changes, it could restart a legal fight between the team and the owners of the rooftops across the street. They complain the signs will cut into their views and possibly destroy their business.

The squabble between the Chicago Cubs and the owners of the rooftop venues across the street from Wrigley Field is returning to City Hall.

On Thursday, the team was expected to make its pitch to the city landmarks commission for a renovation project that's bigger than the one the city approved last year — a pitch that in itself is a challenge to the rooftops to take their best legal shot. The rooftop owners oppose the proposal they say will destroy the exact thing they need for their businesses to survive: A view of the field.

The commission, which must approve the proposal because Wrigley is a city landmark, is expected to vote Thursday, clearing the way for the full City Council to vote on it.

The Cubs want to dramatically expand a $500 million renovation plan approved last year for the 100-year-old ballpark. The team now wants the previously approved Jumbotron and video board to be joined by a second video board and four more signs in the outfield — each as big as 650 square feet. The Cubs also want to expand the bleachers, add seats down the foul lines and erect light standards in the outfield.

The team also wants to move the bullpens from along the foul lines to underneath the bleachers.

The Cubs say they were willing to scale down the original renovation proposal if the rooftop owners promised not to sue, but went ahead with everything they want because they never got that promise.

"We learned ... the threat of litigation was very real, so we felt if we were going to get sued over two signs that we felt we were within our rights to proceed with the original proposal," team spokesman Julian Green said. He said it doesn't matter that the rooftop owners recently said they'd drop their threat of a lawsuit if the team stuck to the smaller plan already approved by the city.

"We are prepared to defend our right to put up additional signs," he said.

The rooftop owners have a contract with the team to hand over 17 percent of their gross revenues until 2023. One said he and his fellow owners threatened to sue because they believed it was the only option available to keep the Cubs from hurting their businesses.

"Any time we have given into these guys on anything they just go and overdo it," said Max Waisvisz. "It's like someone going back again and again to a buffet table."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has urged the two sides to keep talking, clearly wants the renovation project and all the construction jobs, permanent jobs and tourist revenue that will come with it. That has some owners thinking it won't matter what they say Thursday before the commissioners.

"I have no doubt they're going to say yes to everything," said Waisvisz's partner, Dan Finkel. "Emanuel wants it."

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