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Wrigley Renovations Become Theater Of The Absurd

It's time for the grownups to sit down, take this all seriously, and hammer out a deal that's good for everyone.

David Banks

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- I can't believe I'm writing about this for the third consecutive day. But then again, I don't think I've ever seen the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman write about Wrigley Field three days in a row, either.

* Oh, and Fran? It's "coup de grâce", not "coup de gras", as your article states.

Anyway, the gist of it is that pretty much everyone involved in this situation has upset pretty much everyone else. I can see Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolling his eyes after the actions of Ald. Tom Tunney and the "proposal" to move the Cubs to Rosemont (incidentally, on an embarrassingly small plot of land hemmed in by two expressways, a rail line and an airport).

Spielman sums it all up:

A deal — if it can still be salvaged — is certain to include "some signage" inside the ballpark and "some blockage" of rooftop clubs even after attempts to "minimize" the number of obstructions, sources said.

Emanuel is also prepared to lift the 3O-game-per-season ceiling on the number of night games to 44 or 45 games, with some of the dates reserved for concerts. Six-to-1O 3:O5 p.m. starts could also be part of the mix.

But none of that will happen before fence-mending.

"They just accused the alderman of desecrating Wrigley Field, and Axelrod is out there saying Tunney is in the rooftops’ pocket. Every time we make progress, the Cubs do something stupid to set us back," said a mayoral confidant, who asked to remain anonymous.

"There has been progress. There have been concessions made. But the constant one-upsmanship in the media only undermines the trust that’s been built over the period of months. Now, we have to try to rebuild that trust. We have to reclaim territory we’ve already covered." 

The details mentioned in that quote sound pretty reasonable to me. "44 or 45 night games" might be a little too many -- remember, there's another party here, the Wrigleyville neighborhood, a group not being well-represented by its alderman right now -- but again, that's subject to further negotiation. From a baseball standpoint, I think it's much more important to allow the Cubs to play a handful of Friday night home games -- two or three a year would be the most -- coming off road trips. The Cubs seem enamored of the 3:05 start for some reason -- players hate those because of the shadows, and they muck up rush hour traffic, with large crowds dumped onto CTA trains and street traffic just before 6 p.m.

The proposed signage deal mentioned in that quote also would likely work for everyone. Perhaps more important would be the addition of video boards at Wrigley; the best locations for those would be where the Toyota sign is now located, and the equivalent location in right field.

One other thing that's been proposed by the Cubs should, in my view, be a non-starter: the idea to close Sheffield Avenue on game days for a street festival. This is patterned after what the Red Sox do with Yawkey Way in Boston. There are two major differences:

  1. Fenway Park is located mostly in a commercial area, not a residential area, and
  2. The Red Sox already own the buildings on Yawkey Way across the street from Fenway

Something like this simply would not work in a crowded, mostly-residential area like the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field. If the Cubs finish off their restoration project and hotel, they'll certainly have enough bars and restaurants they own themselves, and not need something like what they did for the Northwestern/Illinois game three years ago (dubbed "Wildcat Way"). That worked because it was a one-off, and because they specifically wanted to create a "bowl game atmosphere", and because college football crowds are different than baseball crowds.

I believe if the Cubs dropped this idea, they'd find plenty of negotiating room for the other things they want -- primarily the night games and the signage, which is where the real money in renovating Wrigley can be found. (The real money that the Cubs are hoping to get in the next few years isn't from this project at all, but in the larger TV rights fees they hope to get when the WGN-TV and CSN Chicago deals expire.)

It's time for the adults in the room to sit down and hammer out a deal -- in private, not in the media. The next time I write about this, I hope to be writing about an agreement that's been reached, not more Theater of the Absurd.