Cubs will fund $300 million renovation if city eases Wrigley restrictions
Jan 20, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said Saturday the team will fund an ambitious $300 million renovation plan at Wrigley Field if the city eases some of its restrictions around Wrigley Field.
"The fact is that when you look at all of the limitations that we have, whether that's signage in the outfield, which we are not allowed to do, or what kind of stuff we do in the park or around the park, I think we'd just like a little more flexibility to have some options on that stuff," Ricketts said after a question-and-answer session with fans at the Cubs Convention.
"We have an opportunity cost there that's tremendous. Just give us some relief on some of these restrictions, and we'll take care of (renovating) Wrigley Field."
Among the proposed improvements the Cubs revealed are larger concourses, additional restaurants, more bathroom and concession areas, expanded suites and amenities for the players, including a larger home clubhouse, batting cages and additional training facilities. A new roof would replace the wooden roof, new seats would be installed and the facade would return to its 1930s-era luster.
The project would be done during offseasons over a five-year period in what team business President Crane Kenney termed "the greatest (stadium) restoration project ever."
In order to pay for it, the Cubs are asking for the ability to enhance their revenue streams in the same fashion as other teams, without having to ask permission from the city.
"We'd like to be treated like a private institution," Ricketts told fans. ""We have a lot of restrictions. We compete against our rooftop partners across the street. They compete on price and we compete against them on a regular basis.
"We're told what we can do to the park. We're told what we can do in the park. We're told what we can do around the park. We think, from our position, if you just let us run our business, we can get started on some substantial renovations, make the fan experience better, make the player experience better, and really preserve the park for the next 50 years. We're not a museum. We're a business."
Some of the restrictions Ricketts alluded to include:
Signage: The bleacher vista may be significantly altered if the Cubs get their way. In 2010, the Cubs agreed to a four-year moratorium on additional advertising signs that would rise above the Wrigley Field bleachers in order to gain city approval of a Toyota outfield sign. That moratorium expires after this season, and the Cubs would like to increase their outfield signage, along with other areas in the ballpark. They're the only team with signage restrictions.
Co-owner Laura Ricketts said the restriction on signage puts the team at a disadvantage, "but also forces us to be extra creative in the advertising that we do have, and that makes Wrigley Field, in my opinion, the most special place to watch a ballgame in all of baseball... With our renovations, that's definitely something we want to preserve going forward."
Night games: A city ordinance granted the Cubs permission to play 18 night games a year starting in 1988. In 2004, the city council approved an increase of four night games per year through 2006, giving them their current allotment of 30. The Cubs haven't said how many more night games they need, but one source said "half," or 41, would suffice, including an occasional Saturday night game. The Cubs also would like the return of 3:05 p.m. starts on Friday, believing the weekend restrictions are an anachronism in a commercialized area.
Concerts: An agreement in 2005 between the Cubs and the city gave the Cubs permission to hold two Jimmy Buffet concerts that summer, with the team donating $150,000 of the proceeds to neighborhood schools and reserving 3,000 concert tickets for purchase by people who lived within one mile of the ballpark. The Cubs agreed to hold 29 night games in 2006 instead of the permitted 30. In 2009, the city allowed the Cubs to hold three concerts, including two by Elton John and Billy Joel. The Cubs haven't said how many concerts they'd like, but they'd like to increase it without having to ask for city permission.
Sheffield Avenue: The Cubs have for years been looking to turn Sheffield Avenue into a street-fest on selected weekends, after the successful "Wildcat Way" during the Northwestern-Illinois football game at Wrigley. But opposition by local businesses have been an obstacle. Ricketts pointed to Yawkey Way, the street outside Fenway Park with stands, food kiosks and other activities. "We think it's a good idea," he said. "We think it can really add to the fan experience. We've been to Yawkey Way and we think we can do something comparable. (Sheffield) is already closed. Why can't we put something on it that's nice for families or for fans coming to games "
The Cubs shelved plans for the much-hyped triangle building, instead opting for an open area west of the park that can be used for things like movies, an ice rink and a farmer's market. The plan to add parking was also removed, since polls told them Cubs fans didn't want more congestion next to the ballpark.
Kenney said the Cubs wouldn't need to remove the landmark status for the proposed changes.
"The marquee, the ivy, the scoreboard, we'd be the last ones who would want to touch those," he said. "The landmark ordinance really isn't our problem. It's just the ability to add some of the marketing elements we need and to host games when we feel like it."
While a Jumbotron is not in the works yet, the Cubs are open to the possibility, while maintaining the hand-operated scoreboard. Kenney said polls show Cubs fans will support a Jumbotron, a shift in attitude from what they used to say. He added the team is removing the LED board under the center-field scoreboard to improve the aesthetics, as fans suggested.
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