National Park Service forces changes to Wrigley renovation plan

The Chicago Cubs agreed to several concessions in order to get the National Park Service to approve new advertising signs in the outfield, according to federal records.

The Tribune reported Tuesday night that the Cubs will eliminate one of the five script signs the team wanted and shrink a proposed LED video board in right field to ease the Park Service’s concerns about advertising overkill at the historic ballpark.

Source: Cubs remove 1 sign, shrink another in revised Wrigley plan

But the Park Service also said the team must reduce the length of an LED video ribbon board planned for the fascia of the upper deck grandstand in light of the proposed right-field video screen, according to documents the agency provided to the Tribune on Wednesday morning.

The Park Service didn’t stop there. The federal agency must approve the design, type, color and size of each outfield script sign before installation.

The changes to the proposed advertising appear to clear the way for the Cubs to receive up to $75 million in federal tax credits for the team’s $300 million renovation of the century-old ballpark.

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“This agreement helps improve the aesthetics of the outfield,” said Cubs spokesman Julian Green.

In seeking the tax incentives, the Cubs were required to gain approval of the entire project from the Park Service, which determines whether the renovation of historic properties meets the Department of Interior’s standards and thus are eligible for tax credits.

The Park Service previously had approved several major elements of the Cubs’ project, including a left-field video scoreboard and a script sign in right field.

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But earlier this year, after the Cubs proposed four more outfield script signs and a second video board as part of a bleacher expansion, the agency balked.

“It is important that the cumulative impact of new signage in the outfield does not, in itself, create such a defining feature that the historic character of the stadium is altered,” the Park Service said in a memo to the team.

The Park Service appears to have had more concerns about the new outfield signs than Chicago’s Landmarks Commission, which unanimously approved the additional advertising in July.

Wrigley Field has been an official city landmark since 2004, which means that Chicago’s Landmarks Commission must review and approve any changes to its legally protected features.

Once the Park Service determines that a project is eligible for credits, preservationists said Wednesday, it typically takes an ongoing regulatory role, lending an additional layer of protection to the redevelopment of historic properties.

“This is very standard; does not raise my eyebrows whatsoever,” said Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, the Chicago-based statewide preservation advocacy group.

A key difference between the federal and local review processes is that Park Service officials may be less subject to political pressure than the members of a local landmarks commission, such as Chicago’s, who are appointed by the mayor.

“We were aware that the National Park Service may be more stringent in its approach to the signage,” McDonald said. “That was why we felt comfortable supporting the Cubs plan. It had several layers of regulatory review.”

She added: “I think (Park Service officials) have a different mentality in mind. They recognize that they are guardians for the taxpayers funding the preservation program in our nation.”

The Cubs plan to present the design changes to the Landmarks Commission on Thursday.

The team also plans to install script signs on top of the two video scoreboards in the outfield. On Wednesday, the Cubs announced that Wintrust Financial has agreed to buy the rights to the script sign on top of the left-field video scoreboard.

Tribune reporter Blair Kamin contributed to this story.

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