New Wrigley Field Renovation Plan Unanimously Approved By Landmarks Commission

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

This news isn't really a surprise. But it might not be the final word, either.

To no one's real surprise, the Chicago Landmarks Commission unanimously approved the Cubs' newly proposed renovation/restoration/expansion plan for Wrigley Field, as reported in the Tribune:

The new plan expands on last year’s proposal to renovate the 100-year-old stadium and surrounding areas and calls for seven advertising signs in the outfield, instead of two signs, including a Jumbotron-like video board in left field.

After reducing the plan for the video board from 5,700 square feet to 4,452 square feet, Cubs officials recommended to the landmarks commission an even smaller size Thursday of 3,990 square feet.

The landmarks commission had to review the plan because Wrigley Field has city landmark status that protects several historic features of the ballpark, including the "uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers."

But during the landmarks’ commission staff presentation Thursday, director Eleanor Gorski said the bleachers are expected to be demolished and rebuilt and that the ordinance’ citation of "uninterrupted" refers to the scoreboard, centerfield and the grandstand.

Wait, wait, wait. Cue screechy record album scratchy noise. Demolishing the bleachers? That wasn't in the original plan.

Neither is it in the email that went out to season-ticket holders, people in the neighborhood, and others on the Cubs email lists late Thursday:

The revised bleacher expansion includes our original proposal of seven outfield signs, which are an integral part of the overall planned development.  The revised plan also includes additional seating and open spaces in the Budweiser Bleachers, new group terraces in right and left field, enclosed hospitality areas and new outfield lighting.  All of these features will be a tremendous source of revenue to fund parts of the restoration project and put more resources on the field.

In the coming weeks, we will submit permit applications and prepare to get construction started in areas around the ballpark.

The initial phase of construction will include our surface parking lots and two-story parking lot on Eddy Street.  First, we will begin demolishing the Brown Lot later this month. The new Brown Lot will be expanded by 100 parking spaces to accommodate gameday parking and guests staying at the new Sheraton Hotel.  As the season concludes, we will begin work in the Gold, Red and Purple Lots.  The Gold Lot will be the home of our new broadcast center for home and visiting television networks. 

Currently, broadcast teams are located in the Red Lot adjacent to the ballpark, which will be the site of the new western gate and plaza.  The most significant work will occur in the Purple Lot.  We will begin excavation of the Purple Lot to lay the foundation for the sub-basements which will house the Levy commissary space and the new clubhouse for Cubs players.

The City of Chicago also will be closing portions of Waveland and Sheffield to relocate underground water and sewer infrastructure in preparation of the team moving the ballpark walls out onto Waveland and Sheffield this fall.

Much of this work won’t impact fan access and gameday operations, so construction will occur throughout our remaining homestands.  Following the conclusion of the season, we will immediately begin the Budweiser Bleacher expansion and anticipate completing the installation of new seating, group terraces, outfield signs and lighting, including the new left field video board, by Opening Day 2015.

I reached out to Cubs spokesman Julian Green regarding the tweeted report of "demolition" of the bleachers, and after he expressed surprise about that report, he responded, "There will be some major structural work in left and right field to add new seating but center field will remain largely intact. We're not demolishing the entire bleachers." He added that the existing seating will be replaced after the structural work, because, as he noted, "it's landmarked!"

If you're not familiar with Cubs parking lots as noted above, the Red Lot is what's now on the triangle property immediately west of the ballpark -- as it says, where the TV trucks (and players) park. The Red Lot is immediately west of that, adjacent to Clark Street, and the Gold Lot is across Waveland immediately north of those two. Click here for a map that shows all the lots by color.

Naturally, rooftop owners weren't happy with this deal. They issued a press release -- perhaps the first one they've ever sent out that didn't have a harsh tone and threaten legal action:

"The rooftop owners oppose the plan brought by the Ricketts family the Landmarks Commission approved today. If these signs were to be erected, the blockage would absolutely violate our 20-year contract, just as they violate the spirit of Wrigley's long-standing landmark status. However, we're optimistic that Mayor Emanuel's directive to the Ricketts family to work out a compromise with rooftop owners could create a breakthrough. In fact, every rooftop owner supports a plan that's currently on the table resulting in two signs that mitigate blockage, generates revenue to modernize Wrigley Field and takes litigation off the table. We look forward to sitting down with Crane Kenney and Tom Ricketts immediately and engaging in good faith negotiations. We see a path for a win-win solution, and our intention is to report a global solution very quickly," said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman, Wrigleyville Rooftops Association.

Well, here's what I have to say to that. If the rooftop owners had said that a year ago -- when the original Cubs plan was approved by the Landmarks Commission -- we'd have had construction already under way and they wouldn't have the seven signs blocking pretty much every rooftop view. Rooftop owners -- and as we learned recently, it was essentially just one recalcitrant owner -- made their proverbial bed and now they must lie in it.

It should be noted that this might not quite be over. From the Tribune article:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, though, wants the team to continue talking with the rooftop owners. Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney vowed to continue negotiating with rooftop owners at the meeting Thursday, but added that the "cumulative visual impact (of the signs) is modest compared to most modern sports facilities."

What Kenney says is true, particularly in comparison to places like Miller Park and Chase Field, which are absolutely stuffed to the gills with both fixed signs and video-board type signs. I would submit that Wrigley Field, being far different in both type of park and location than those places, might be better served by having fewer signs with less "visual impact," as it's put. Now that the Cubs have their victory at the Landmarks Commission, it might serve them well to talk again with the rooftop owners, since they pretty much hold all the cards. With the rooftops' aggressive tone over the last year or so, the Cubs, without specifically saying so, made it pretty clear that they had no intention of renewing the contract with the rooftop clubs past its expiration date nine years from now.

So the rooftop clubs are facing extinction, unless they can make a deal from a position of weakness. Given their holdup to this deal, I have little sympathy for them. What's interesting, of course, is that if the Cubs do put up all these signs, essentially blocking all the rooftop views, they also take away their own possibility of taking over the rooftop clubs nine years from now -- since there won't be any views at all.

Once again, as I have done with almost all the recent posts on this topic, I present to you the larger version of the image at the top of this post. (Click to open in a new browser window or tab.) This way you can see for yourself everything the Cubs are talking about, and what I'm writing about in this article.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned much: There appear to be ribbon boards on the upper-deck facades in that rendering. Those are things I had thought the Cubs would put up a long time ago -- there's no landmark issue nor does it block any rooftop views, and they could have had revenue from advertising from those several years ago.

In the end, maybe a deal will be reached with the rooftops to modify the proposal that was approved Thursday. If not and the Cubs go forward with the new agreement, I think it's a bit too much, but over time, just as we got accustomed to lights, suites, expanded bleachers and other changes in Wrigley Field, we'll all get used to those. As Tom Ricketts once said, "Wrigley Field isn't a museum." I agree with that, and the renovated Wrigley Field will provide new revenue, new facilities for players and fans, and maybe last another 100 years.

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