War Rages Over Wrigley Plaza Plans to Extend Alcohol Sales

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The Cubs may be setting records on the field, but they are feuding again with Lakeview Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward).

Team officials are meeting with aldermen and neighborhood representatives to craft a plan for the use of the open air plaza, to be located on the west side of the stadium. Tunney is afraid it will become the world's largest beer garden unless he stops it.

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Tunney says he will oppose the Cubs’ current plan to get a patio liquor license for that plaza once it’s complete in the fall.

The two sides crafted an ordinance to deal with all of this two and a half years ago, but disagree on what the ordinance means. The Cubs say the plaza is set to accommodate 6,000 people. That includes anybody who does or doesn’t have a ticket to the game who wants in on the experience. They want it open all year, to serve drinks until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. And they want to use it for concerts, a skating rink and farmer’s market among other things.

But Tunney says that’s not how he understands it. He’s proposing creating small patios of a few hundred people tied to the bars that will be in the building, as opposed to allowing it across the plaza; only allowing fans who have tickets to the game to use the plaza; and cutting off drink sales at the seventh inning.

He does support other uses of the plaza on non-game days, including the farmer’s market, skating rink and as a location for Movies in the Parks.

Tunney says his position is all about the safety of the neighborhood.

“It would be unprecedented to have a 4,000-person beer garden where they could be drinking from 11 in the morning until midnight, 365 days a year with that particular occupancy of maybe 4,000 people, in addition to the 41,000 people in the ballpark,” Tunney said. “Imagine the safety concerns the police have, the neighbors have, the idea of people drinking for that many hours, 365 days a year.”

But a Cubs spokesperson says Tunney is just trying to do the bidding of the dozens of bar owners in the neighborhood who are afraid the new plaza may cut into their business.

“He is trying to protect the profits of a select few bar owners along Clark Street – that has nothing to do with public safety,” says Cubs spokesman Julian Green. “There are 81 liquor licenses along Clark where you can drink before, during and after a Cubs game. Why not cut them off in the seventh inning then?”

We spoke with the owner of Murphy’s Bleachers who says she doesn’t think the plaza will hurt her business.

City Council doesn’t have a say in whether the Cubs are granted the patio liquor license from the state, but Tunney could have sway by testifying against it in scheduled community hearings that must take place before a final ruling. We spoke with a neighborhood group who says they’d rather continue negotiating with the Cubs on an agreed-upon ordinance.

“It brings a lot more people to a very confined space,” said Jim Spencer, head of the East Lakeview Neighbors Association. “Clark is already over-trafficked during a game. To give these people beer, wine, shots and release them out in the neighborhood at once is a public safety nuisance.”

If the Cubs continue to go the liquor permit route, it could be resolved in a couple of months, and they plan on opening the patio sometime next fall.

Green says the Cubs would offer private security to police the plaza, and that the activities will be suitable for all ages.

“This plaza, as designed, is going to be a great attraction and enhancement to the community,” Green said. “Whether it’s an ice rink, farmer’s market, or Movies in the Parks, this is going to enhance the quality of life in the community. It isn’t going to be the ‘world’s largest beer garden.’”

Emanuel’s office offered no comment at this point.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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