Selling of Wrigley Field renovation plan begins
Jan 20, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said he "kind of understood some of the restrictions" on Wrigley Field when he bought the team.
"What I didn't understand was we were the only team in baseball to have these restrictions," he said.
That suggests either then-Cubs Chairman and current business president Crane Kenney didn't explain the city ordinances and landmarking provisions unique to the historic ballpark, or Ricketts simply wasn't paying close attention.
Either way, Ricketts made a bold move by asking the city to give the Cubs' owners carte blanche on Wrigley Field, offering to fund the $300 million renovation project themselves if "restrictions" are eased.
The Cubs put on a full-court press Saturday, revealing their renovation plans at the Cubs Convention with a slide show narrated by Pat Hughes and presentations from representatives of the marketing, baseball and business departments.
Now the ball is in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's court.
The Cubs have spoken to Emanuel's representatives, and Kenney feels he'll be amenable to the new proposal.
"The mayor has been terrific in our conversations about understanding what's at stake here," Kenney said. "He appreciates as much as anyone, given we were in his (congressional) district, how important Wrigley Field is. He wants to protect the taxpayers. We understand that."
Here's a rundown of some renovation-related issues:
Cubs clubhouse: Kenney said the home clubhouse would be the top priority in the first season of the rebuild. General manager Jed Hoyer compared it to a Double-A clubhouse the first time he visited. "It was eye-opening, to say the least," he said. There's no doubt the clubhouse is small and relatively cramped by modern standards, but it has been upgraded in recent years and is large enough for a 25-man roster. Since a new lounge was added a couple years ago, few players have to spend much time at their lockers. Why do the Cubs players need a cushier clubhouse Hoyer said: "We're paying them a lot of money to preserve their bodies. We're expecting them to go out and entertain us every single night over the course of the summer. This is the way we should treat them, as first-class athletes. And I think the better you treat your players and the more amenities they have, they'll certainly reciprocate in kind."
Batting tunnels: The Cubs will have batting cages underneath the park for the first time. Unfortunately for the Cubs, an artist's rendering of the cages had home plate facing the wrong way. Only the Cubs could make an error like this.
Signage: The Cubs did not say where they would like to place signs, but the outfield is the most lucrative spot in terms of revenue. Purists might complain that more ad signage mars the vista, though the real problem could come from rooftop owners who might be blocked by a large sign, like the Toyota sign in left field.
Patio areas: After creating a premium-priced patio section in the right field bleachers last year, vice-president of marketing Wally Hayward said they plan to create a similar patio in left field, left of the foul pole. It also figures to be a high-priced ticket for group outings. "Our corporate partners can not only help enhance your experience, but they're critical in providing new revenues streams for us to put the best possible product on the field that (Cubs management) is working on, and also to save Wrigley," Hayward said.
Triangle area: The plans for a so-called "Triangle building" on the parking lot west of the ballpark was scrapped for an open-air area that can be used for a farmer's market, ice rink, movie-watching and other activities. Mike Lufrano, executive vice-president/community affairs, said "on game days, fans like me with small children wanted more interactive spaces, both inside the park, and if we couldn't find the space there, then outside the park." Lufrano said the idea of having 400 vehicles enter the Triangle building for parking "wasn't something that was particularly well thought of" by fans.
LED boards: The Cubs will remove the LED board that's been under the center field scoreboard since 1983. They hope to add one above the left field bleacher wall. "This will help us ensure all fans who sit in the bowl seats will have access to the statistics and information we can provide," senior marketing director Allison Miller said. Alex Sugarman, vice-president of strategy and development, said surveys of season-tickets holders showed 80 percent of fans liked the LED board installed last year in right field because of the game-day information and stats.
Jumbotron: The Cubs have been discussing this for years at the convention, but appear to be gaining support for a mini-Jumbotron. "We found 60 percent would actually be in favor of a video board as long as it didn't interfere with the historic scoreboard," Sugarman said. Miller said the Cubs are "considering it" for the renovation. The location would be important, since it would probably block the view of one of the rooftops, unless the Cubs can get an agreement to put one on top of a rooftop. Miller said Fenway Park added three video boards with their latest renovation. Of course, Wrigley isn't Fenway, and has never had video. "We're not doing 'kiss cams,'" Miller said. "It's going to be real stats, highlights ..." Miller forgot to add advertising, the real purpose of adding any video board due to the revenues it would provide.
Press box: The Cubs said there will be a bi-level press box with "upgraded technology and network facilities." Unlike the last U.S. Cellular Field renovations, the Cubs don't plan to move the press box down the right field line. They're forfeiting revenues to allow the media to cover the game with traditional baseball sightlines.
Seats: With 50 million pounds of concrete and steel removed and replaced, and new seats installed, will they be properly angled down the lines to watch the game without craning one's neck Kenney said the re-pouring of concrete will give them an opportunity to "adjust some of the seat levels and angles toward the field." Kenney added: "Turns out they did a pretty good job back in 1914 when they built it. If you go to some parks, including Fenway where you're angled in the wrong direction, our seats are angled pretty well." The Cubs also will install new handrails throughout the park.
Posts: One thing that won't change is the posts that obstruct some fans' views in the grandstand. Vice-president of ballpark operations Carl Rice explained: "We've looked at all the steel structure throughout the entire building, evaluating each one of the columns. Really, to keep the historic charm and the overhang of the upper deck being so close to the lower deck, we really need to keep all of those columns in place."
Visitors clubhouse: The visitors clubhouse at Wrigley is the smallest in baseball and regarded by players as the worst. Some feel that's a competitive advantage for the Cubs. Will the renovations change anything "Unfortunately, the major league rules require that we provide them, for instance, batting tunnels, if we have them (on the home side)," Kenney said. "They will get the batting tunnels. They won't get the other things."
Exits: Congestion caused by the lack of entrances should be relieved with a new gate on the west side of Wrigley Field. Currently the only entrance points are in the left and right field corners and at the corner of Clark Street and Addison Street.
Capacity: Kenney said the capacity of Wrigley Field would go down by 70 seats when the renovation is complete. It's currently 41,009 after recent changes like the right-field patio. Asked whether the Cubs will go to personal seat licensing -- paying a fixed rate to "own" a seat -- Kenney said: "As the Ricketts family has said from the beginning, PSLs are not on the table."
Restaurants: Vice-president of ticket sales Colin Faulkner said the team will introduce a club-level lounge under the press box where the current patio overlooking Clark and Addison exists. They also plan on a restaurant in the old administrative offices behind home plate, which have been empty for a year, and another behind first base. "
Hotel: The hotel planned on the property housing a McDonald's on Clark Street will be about 175 rooms, Ricketts said. "Nothing overwhelming," he said. Obviously, it will be an in-season destination for tourists, but the Cubs also believe it will be good for the neighborhood in the offseason. "We used to live in that neighborhood (and thought), 'It'd be great if mom and dad could've stayed somewhere closer than downtown," Ricketts said. "There just aren't a lot of hotel choices as you go farther north."
Friday games: Kenney said fans want 3:05 p.m. starting times on Fridays, which are prohibited by the city because of neighborhood concerns over parking when lights were first installed. "When the club returns from a road trip on the West Coast, they like to play later in the day," Kenney said. The baseball department also likes the idea, though in truth, the Cubs rarely are forced to have a 1:20 p.m. start after a West Coast trip.
Special events: Lufrano said the neighbors "overwhelmingly" want more special events, like the concerts, the Northwestern-Illinois football game and the Winter Classic hockey game. "We want to continue to bring world-class entertainment events to Lakeview, and want to do it in a way that's sensitive to our community," Lufrano said. He said they also like street fests like the one on Sheffield Avenue, though some business owners feel the fests take away from their own revenues.
Elevators: Rice said the Cubs will add six new elevators, in left and right fields and behind home plate "to allow fans to be able to up and down to the upper deck with ease." Currently there is only one little-used elevator, in left field.
Bathrooms: The Cubs will increase bathroom capacity by 42 percent, they said, including more in the upper deck. "I never thought we'd have focus groups about troughs in the men's restrooms," Kenney cracked. He did not say whether the troughs would be replaced, saying fans were "evenly divided" on the issue. In one of the funnier moments, one fan complimented Ricketts for standing in line at the bathroom during the Cooperstown ceremonies for Ron Santo. "Anyone that's been to Wrigley their whole life, it would just be wrong to cut in the bathroom line," Ricketts said to laughter.
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