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Cubs Want To 'Transform' Wrigleyville In Addition To Wrigley Field

A Tribune article summarizes the team's plans.

David Sameshima

Sunday's edition of the Tribune contains this long article which basically sums up the team's plans not only for Wrigley Field, but for the surrounding area, which has become known as "Wrigleyville" over the last few decades.

Since the article's behind a paywall and many of you don't have access, I thought I'd summarize the key points for you.

Much of the article discusses the things we already know and have talked about here often: the expansion of Wrigley, the signs going up, the ongoing rooftop dispute. The article talks about how the Cubs and the Ricketts family want to try to make money not only from the ballpark, but from other projects in the neighborhood. One rooftop owner is quoted as saying "They do have a longer plan — the Disney World of baseball. This is a very brilliantly run campaign to slowly get what they want. I give them credit."

That's true, which is why I found this quote puzzling:

"We've always had a buffer zone with what goes on at Wrigley," said Jim Spencer, a longtime Lakeview resident who heads East Lakeview Neighbors. "(The Rickettses) want to create a night-life area that will draw people here year-round. … I think it's just a further erosion of individual owners and the neighborhood while one corporate owner who has an easy entrance to the mayor's office gets whatever he wants."

Look at the photo at the top of this post. It was taken December 13 -- "TBOX" day ("Twelve Bars of Xmas," if you didn't know the acronym previously). There are many, many days and nights when the area around Wrigley Field is crowded with nightlife-seekers, even when the Cubs are out of town (granted, not always as many as during TBOX). It's been a "night-life area" for decades. Why this "longtime Lakeview resident" can't see that is beyond me.

I found this part of the article, regarding the rooftops and signs that, according to them, were going to block their views, most illuminating:

In an interview, rooftop owner Mark Schlenker said the team once got the owners of the Sheffield Avenue rooftop clubs on a conference call and let them know they wanted to buy their businesses.

"There's a plan that the Cubs want to own all that land someday," Schlenker said, referring to properties of the rooftops. "They wanted to buy all the Sheffield buildings. They told us that."

Schlenker and Max Waisvisz, a partner in another ownership group, said in interviews that the Cubs told them in negotiations that they want to generate about $24 million in revenue from the outfield, either from signage or rooftops. In 2013, Ricketts told the City Club of Chicago that adding outfield signs would reap $20 million.

According to the recent suit filed by rooftop owners, Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney told a rooftop owner that the team will keep open any rooftop business it buys and "we're going to block" those it can't.

In December, the team unveiled its latest renovation plans in which it shuffled the locations of outfield signs; the result of those changes is that the views of the three rooftops they soon purchased no longer had signs in front of them.

Lakeview Baseball Club and Skybox at Sheffield, the businesses suing the team, hired a tech company to analyze whether the Cubs' signs would block their views. The firm's analysis included the team's own renderings and found "complete blocking of the infield, and nearly complete blocking of the outfield," according to court records.

This is all very interesting. I had figured several years ago that the likely endgame of the rooftop dispute was for the Cubs (or, more likely, the Ricketts family) would wind up owning all of the rooftops. As I've mentioned before, one of Tribune Company's signature failures was not buying up all these buildings in the 1980s when they could have had them for prices in the tens of thousands. I've noted that a friend of mine was offered one of the buildings on Sheffield in 1978 or 1979 for $38,000 (he didn't have it, so couldn't do it at the time). It's not as if they didn't know what the buildings could be used for -- as far back as the 1950s WGN-TV was bringing clients to an attic alcove (since covered over) on the building that now has the United Airlines ad to watch games.

It's worth going out and buying Sunday's dead-tree edition of the Tribune for this article, because it has a drawing showing exactly what signage would block which rooftop club, and also the ownership of each of the clubs. That drawing isn't in the online link.

When Tribune bought the Cubs in 1981, the ballpark hadn't really been updated in any significant way since the 1960s (except for larger dugouts built in the late 1970s). Tribune did some changes, bringing in lights (for which they had a similar fight with the neighborhood as is going on now with the rooftops), an expanded clubhouse, suites, a new press box, and in 2005-06, expanded bleachers.

But the financial landscape of baseball has changed and the team has to do what it's doing now in order to compete. The dollar figures noted above for signage aren't chump change. These changes, to me, won't ruin the essential nature of Wrigley Field, a major-league stadium nestled in a dynamic city neighborhood. The view from the bleachers, at least (once they open), will be essentially unchanged from 25 years ago. As Tom Ricketts has been quoted as saying many times: "Wrigley Field isn't a museum." It's a place of business, and its owners have to compete with 29 other similar businesses. I say: "Do whatever's needed in order to win."

If the Cubs and the Ricketts want to "transform" the neighborhood as well, the neighbors -- who have had to deal with noise from bars for many years -- ought to embrace it instead of fighting it, in my view.