You've seen some of the photos of the demolition going on both outside the main entrance at Wrigley Field and in the bleachers, but Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney says everything will be done and ready to go for Opening Night, April 11, 2016. In fact, he made a point to tell me and other Cubs new-media writers who sat down with him Tuesday afternoon that the Cubs will likely bring in porta-potties just to make sure there aren't any lines for restrooms as there were on Opening Day 2015.
That's what you wanted to make sure of, right? No bathroom lines?
Of course you do, but you also want to know the state of the construction project that we've been documenting here at BCB (and in being at the ballpark Tuesday, I can tell you not much has changed since the last photoset that was posted).
Kenney said the bleachers, as you saw them during the 2015 season once they opened, were about "70 percent complete." The work being done now, in addition to what you've seen in the photos posted here, includes completely new downstairs restrooms (though there will not be any on the seating level in the bleachers), a larger patio underneath the scoreboard in center field (which will result in removing a couple of rows of seats near the top), some greenery in the "planters' boxes" that line the steps going up either side of the center-field bleachers, and replacement of the brick pavers that were removed from around the main entrance. The pavers will now be located outside the bleacher entrance, and I assume those of you who had such pavers removed will be notified of their new locations.
The outfield light towers that have been seen in various renderings of the ballpark restoration project are, according to Kenney, still in "planning" and won't be finished by the beginning of the 2016 season. Neither will the plaza nor the western gate to the ballpark, though Kenney said you'll see progress in those areas throughout the 2016 season. The western gate could be finished sometime during 2016, but it won't be open until the 2017 season. The plaza office building's expected completion date is sometime late in 2016, at which time there will be some restaurants and "light entertainment" venues going in on the first floor. The plan is to have those open year-round.
Work now ongoing in the Cubs' new clubhouse (which will be 30,000 square feet as opposed to the 13,000 square feet of the existing clubhouse) includes installing the HVAC equipment, followed by drywall. Kenney says it will "absolutely" be ready before Opening Night so they can make sure everything's working right. As you know, the bullpens won't be moved underneath the bleachers until after the 2016 season in part because they have to complete constructing batting tunnels for both teams. That won't be done in time for the bullpens to move. The Cubs' batting tunnels will be where the current clubhouse is located. The visitors clubhouse will also get upgrades, but not until next offseason.
The "carbon wrap" that can be put on top of existing concrete, as shown in this link (and that I know a number of you have mentioned already in some of our construction update comment sections), will be placed in the sections down the left-field line where you've seen seats removed. Kenney said that the concrete in that part of the park has many different ages -- some 50 years old, some just five -- so some concrete could be replaced, then sealed, other portions simply sealed. When the seats are replaced, some of them will be existing seats, some could be new. When the project is completely finished, the dugouts are actually going to be moved a bit down the left-field line (in order to match with the tunnels to the new clubhouses), so some seating will be shifted in the lower bowl. Also, as some of you have guessed due to the switch from of aisles to sections in the bleachers, that renumbering will happen in the rest of the ballpark as well, though likely not until the project is completely finished.
As you also know, the Ricketts family now controls six rooftop clubs. Early next year a website will debut where you'll be able to buy tickets for all of these clubs in one place. And there will be at least one new fixed sign in the bleachers when the park opens in 2016.
Finally, in regard to the ballpark, the Cubs will be installing magnetometers for entry starting with the 2016 season. They had had a waiver for 2015 due to the construction, but everyone going into Wrigley will go through metal detectors starting next spring. If you've been to other major-league parks this past season, it'll be similar to that procedure.
One other thing that's going into the plaza building will be studio space for the team's broadcast partners, CSN Chicago, WGN-TV and ABC-7, as well as CBS Radio. Pre- and post-game shows will be produced from this studio space, and when the Cubs begin their own channel starting in 2020, that network will take over this space.
Which brings me to a number of questions I had prepared about that future Cubs network. I was most curious about Kenney's commitment to "going it alone," as he had been quoted recently on sports talk radio. He seemed quite committed to having a Cubs network that would be compelling enough so that service providers in the Cubs' territory would want to carry it -- at the right subscriber cost. He also hinted that it might be available in other markets for everything except live games, so it's conceivable that a Cubs Channel could be available nationwide. If you're outside the Cubs' territory you'd still be able to watch the live games on MLB.tv or Extra Innings. Kenney didn't rule out the idea of partnering with an entity such as Comcast or DirecTV in creating a Cubs channel.
In related news, you have probably read about the deal MLB made recently for in-market streaming of local games with the 15 RSN's run by Fox. Obviously, the Cubs aren't included in that deal, but Kenney noted that there are still talks going on for the RSN's run by Comcast, which include CSN Chicago, so there's a chance that by Opening Day 2016 you might be able to watch games on your phone or other mobile device -- as long as you have a cable or satellite subscription.
For the games currently carried by ABC-7 and WGN-TV (which will again total 70 games in 2016), Kenney said it's still up to stations in the 13 markets that are in the Cubs' territory outside Chicago (those are: Peoria, Quad Cities, Rockford, Springfield-Decatur-Champaign, Quincy-Hannibal, Cedar Rapids-Waterloo, Des Moines, Sioux City, Ottumwa, South Bend, Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, Lafayette -- if I left your market out let me know, but I think that's all of them) to make deals to carry those games. The rightsholders -- WGN-TV and ABC-7 -- are responsible for making those deals, so if you want to lobby anyone, lobby those stations, or the stations in your market. I'd think that after the Cubs' big season in 2015, it would be much more desirable for stations in those markets to carry the games.
Thanks to the Cubs for this candid and informative session with Crane Kenney, and in particular to VP of Communications and Community Affairs Julian Green and Manager of Communications Kevin Saghy for organizing this afternoon's session. I have been promised some updated Wrigley renderings which had not arrived at the time I finished writing this; I wanted to get this published as soon as possible, so I'll add the new renderings in when I receive them.
(UPDATE: The renderings I was sent are the two that you have seen in the comments to this post. I'm putting one of them as the cover photo.)