Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wrigley Field Renovation Proposal

(photos courtesy of

The Cubs have been in the news a lot recently, but certainly not for their play.  A $500-million renovation plan for the iconic Wrigley Field has finally been formally submitted to the city of Chicago after years of speculation and negotiation.  The team hopes for approval by October so construction can begin in the offseason, and continue over the subsequent five offseasons.  The proposal will include:
  • 6,000 SF jumbotron in left field
  • 1,000 SF of additional signage in right field
  • Permission to increase number of night games and non-baseball events
  • Upgraded clubhouses
  • Addition to house new visitors clubhouse and 2-story bar
  • Widen concourses
  • Upgrade concessions, restrooms, and team store(s)
  • Substantial repairs and maintenance
  • New building to house 175-room hotel, fitness club, and team offices; linked to park with skywalk
  • Remove parking on Waveland Avenue to allow for stadium expansion
  • Closing of Sheffield Avenue on weekend home games
  • Off-site parking garage with shuttle to park
  • Better connection of bleachers to rest of ballpark 
Updating Wrigley Field to the standards of modern baseball has been of highest priority of owner Tom Ricketts since he purchased the team in 2009, and to say this renovation is long overdue would be a major understatement.  I have been pretty vocal about my thoughts on Wrigley Field, namely that I think it is a dump and it is overrated.  I understand that I am in the minority, and yes being a Brewers fan definitely contributes to my disdain for the park, but in my mind there is difference between a historic structure and a building that is just old and falling apart.  I get it - it's got a hand-operated scoreboard, and the ivy is cool, and it's in a neighborhood, blah blah blah...I get that.  I get that it is a great atmosphere and a baseball mecca for many.  But in my opinion, the team has to at least give the illusion that it cares and does not just take for granted that Wrigley Field will be around forever.  Granted, it's not entirely the Cubs' fault, but I think it's incredibly stubborn and naive that prior ownership has just left the field to wither and age all these years, knowing that fans will still come to the park and shell out $10 for an Old Style regardless of stadium condition or the team's record.  I personally don't find falling concrete and 50-year old plumbing and cramped concourses to be alluring.  Fenway Park has shown us that it is possible to have a historic structure that has been upgraded yet still keeps its charm.  Until the Cubs follow suit, I will not be going back to Wrigley, aside from next year's 100th anniversary season (just in case the proposal stalls and the park falls down).  As both an architect and a baseball fan, it would be a shame to me if this stadium is not repaired.

So why has it taken so long to get the ball rolling on this?  Part of it is the Cubs just trying to keep costs down and taking the approach of not fixing something that isn't broken - even though in some cases, the park literally is breaking.  The Cubs still make money hand over fist despite Alfonso Soriano's neverending albatross contract and 50+ home day games a year.  I think ultimately having an owner like Ricketts who is a business guy and not a "baseball guy" is a blessing for the Cubs, because he recognizes this golden opportunity to improve an already profitable product and to remain competitive.  The other big reason the process has been slow-moving is because, in the words of Ricketts, the city is forcing the Cubs to run their operation more like a museum than a business.  There are so many outside interests, landmark regulations, neighborhood codes, and historical nuances that the Cubs have to address with their 99-year old ballpark that most other teams simply don't have to deal with.  First, Ricketts wanted the city to help finance the renovation with tax dollars, and the city said no dice.  Then he said ok, I'll just put up some more advertising, and the rooftop owners balked at that, since they have a minority stake in the team's ticket sales and proposed signage would block their view.  Now Cubs' ownership has been left no choice but to pursue outside means of revenue, i.e. hotel.  After continuing to bend over backwards to please all the parties involved, Ricketts reached a boiling point last week when he threatened to move the team out of Wrigleyville if a deal did not go through.  I don't think this would ever happen, but I can certainly understand his frustration.  The fact that I'm siding with somebody associated with the Cubs should let you know how much I think this whole thing stinks.

When the Red Sox went through this same conundrum in the past decade, ulimately the team, the city, and the neighborhood all took a step back and thought about what life would be like without Fenway Park, and a deal got done.  The result was a beautiful and tactful renovation to ensure the stadium is around for generations to come.  In the end, I think Wrigley Field will enjoy the same result.  It's a cash cow for the Cubs, it is singlehandedly the reason the neighborhood exists, and a huge tourism draw for Chicago.  If the rooftop owners continue to be stubborn and bark about a modestly sized scoreboard and a few advertising billboards - things that every team deserves to remain viable - the more critical upkeep and repair will fall by the wayside.  Wrigley Field has been around for nearly 100 years, and this renovation is needed to ensure it is around for another 100.

Brewers 15-19, -7.5 (4 @ Pirates, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 21-16, -3.0
(3 @ Marlins, 3 @ Phillies)
Twins 16-16, -3.5 (3 v. White Sox, 3 v. Red Sox)

Erik - 3
Peter - 8

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