CHICAGO — Wrigley Field took a step in the direction of every major league ballpark in the country on Thursday when a city commission unanimously approved the Chicago Cubs’ massive renovation project that includes a Jumbotron and six other electronic signs.
The city’s landmarks commission, which must sign off on such plans because Wrigley is so well known, agreed to a renovation project that is dramatically bigger than one approved last year. Besides the Jumbotron above the ivy-covered outfield left field wall and another electronic sign above the right field wall that it already approved, the commission agreed to the Cubs’ request to add five more electronic signs, expand the bleachers and build bullpens beneath the bleachers.
The vote came after a four-hour meeting during which the Cubs and the owners of the rooftop venues across the street engaged in an argument that has become familiar to Chicago over the past few years.
On one side, the Cubs said they need the revenue generated by the signs to help fund the $500 million project and ultimately generate enough money to help the team win its first World Series since 1908.
On the other were the owners of the rooftops, who say the signs violate a contract they have with the Cubs that calls for them to pay the team 17 percent of their gross revenues, because the signs would cut into the views of the field they need to survive.
The Cubs, which won approval last year from the commission and later the City Council for a less-extensive expansion project, say they came forward with the new proposal only because the rooftop owners would not rule out filing a lawsuit.
“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 before Thursday’s meeting.
Both sides believe they are on solid legal ground. The rooftop owners say what the Cubs are proposing is a clear violation of the contract because it directly hurts their business. The Cubs counter that while the team does not have the right to put up a fence designed only to block the views of the rooftops — something previous owners did briefly in 2002 — they can make city-approved improvements to the 100-year-old stadium.