May 16, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; People walk by the Cubs marquee before the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers. The marquee was painted green from red as part of the season-long 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Wrigley Field renovation will be an epic battle for Cubs


This season, the Chicago Cubs are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their home, Wrigley Field. The Ricketts family, owners of the team, are trying to bring Wrigley into the 21st century with a renovation. A renovation plan was approved by the city of Chicago, but the rooftop owners behind Wrigley are not in favor of anything that may obstruct the view from their rooftops, either partially or whole, and have vowed to keep that from happening.

Why is there a need for the renovation of Wrigley Field?

The Cubs insist that in order to field a winning team they need additional revenue to compete. Since their last playoff appearance in 2008, attendance at Wrigley Field has dropped from about 41,000 per game to about 32,000 this year. In fact attendance this season has gone down from last year, even though the team has been holding celebrations commemorating Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary.

The renovations to Wrigley Field are absolutely necessary. It costs roughly $15 million in upkeep alone. Being 100 years old, In 2004, pieces of concrete were falling. The Cubs had to make some repairs and add a protective netting.

Many people love Wrigley Field, but the sentiment is not shared among baseball people. In 2011, baseball analyst Peter Gammons called Wrigley a dump. In a local radio interview, he said “They have to make that ballpark livable. It’s a dump, Wrigley Field. They’re going to have to spend $200-and-something million [the actual plan calls for $300 million] on re-renovating Wrigley Field, do what the Boston owners did with Fenway Park.”

Players and managers around the league also have a distaste for Wrigley’s condition. Ozzie Guillen, who spent years in Chicago as both a player and manager, spoke about Wrigley Field in 2008 before a Cubs-Sox game when he was the White Sox manager in 2008.

“You are going to take batting practice and the rats look bigger than a pig out there,” said Guillen, referring to the batting cages under the right-field bleachers. “I think the rats out there are lifting weights.” He also added “What’s wrong with saying I don’t like this ballpark? You ask any player which one they like less and they might throw in some names. Ask me about it, and this is the one I pick.”

Just last week, former Cubs pitcher and now current San Diego Padre Andrew Cashner said about Wrigley, “And Wrigley (Field), it’s a dump…It’s bad.” Are you noticing a trend here?

What is the renovation plan?    

“They have to make that ballpark livable. It’s a dump, Wrigley Field. They’re going to have to spend $200-and-something million on renovating Wrigley Field.” -Peter Gammons

When sports teams decide to renovate their stadiums or build new stadiums, they usually turn to the city’s taxpayers to foot the bill. Usually, the taxpayers end up with the short end of the stick. Ask the Dade County residents about the Marlins and their shiny new ballpark.

The Cubs were different, however. They unveiled a $500 million renovation plan, with nothing coming out of taxpayers’ pockets. It adds a jumbotron at left field and another large sign at right field. The Cubs are allowed to add signage around the park.

At the front end of the park, there will be a Captain Morgan Club with a merchandise store and space for a visitor’s clubhouse.

There will also be plans to build in and around the ballpark. There will be 1,000 free remote parking spots added, with shuttle service to and from the park. Also, a 175-room hotel will be built, along with a 40,000 square foot health club, a restaurant and retail space that could include a Cubs museum. A bridge over the street will connect Wrigley Field to the new plaza.

What does the Chicago City Council need to do for all of this? Just change the law to allow 40 night games at Wrigley Field. The plan will add 2,100 jobs and generate $1.2 billion in revenue (net, not gross) to the city’s economy over the next 30 years.

What is the problem causing the delay? 

So, everyone agrees that Wrigley Field is in dire need of renovations. The Cubs want to do the renovations, with no cost to the taxpayers. It will inject jobs and a lot of money into the economy. It’s a winning situation for all, is it not? Well, not if you are the rooftop owners, and they are who have been holding up the startup of the renovations.

In order to get a clearer picture of what is going on in Wrigleyville, you need to understand the history of the rooftop.

Fans have been watching Cubs games since it opened a century ago. At first, it was just a rudimentary way to catch a ballgame. A lucky few could gain access from the buildings’ owners or tenants. They would go to the roof with buckets, coolers, folding chairs, or anything else that could be used to cushion them from the hot tar of the sun drenched roof.

In the 1980′s, Cubs hall of fame announcer Harry Caray would send greetings to the rooftop fans. With the expansion of WGN, the Cubs became hugely popular (even without winning) and getting to the rooftop was a coveted prize.

With the booming popularity of the rooftops, owners built bleachers on their roofs. They could have a lot more people attend, and they started charging admission (from about $200 on up per person).

The rooftop atmosphere is now more corporate-friendly than fan-friendly. Instead of being owned by people, the buildings are now owned by corporations. No one lives in those buildings now. Each building is now like a  three or four-floor restaurant. Whereas the fans who got on the roofs in the early days just wanted to enjoy a Cubs game for free, now the game may be the last thing anyone is interested in. It is more for socializing or getting business deals done.

You can see how the rooftop owners do not want to allow the Cubs to put up anything that may obstruct the view from their buildings. It is now big business, and even if there is just a partial obstruction, it will cost the rooftop owners money.

Recently, FanSided’s Michael Collins wrote a piece about the updated renovation plan and an artist’s renderings of what Wrigley should look like after the work is done. You can see it here. The revised plan will cost an estimated $75 million more, still paid completely by the Cubs.

As you can see from the pictures, there will be some obstruction caused by the signs in left field and right. Also the two new light towers as proposed will cause obstruction as well.

There will not be a total obstruction for the rooftop fans, however. There will still be areas where you can watch the game from the rooftop. It won’t be as much as it is now, so the rooftop owners are going to fight and fight to the bloody end.

The Cubs signed an agreement with the rooftop owners that gave the team 17% of the money (gross not net) made by the rooftops. The rooftop owners argue that the renovations as proposed violate the contract and they will take the Cubs to court.

Last week, the details of the contract were leaked. The part of the contract that could either open the way for the Cubs to continue or halt the entire plan may come down to one sentence in Section 6.6: “Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this Agreement, including this section,”

The Cubs argue that those words provide help for the team should they get sued. The rooftop owners, of course, disagree. They state that the expansion refers only to the Wrigley Field bleachers, and not to the other parts of Wrigley.

The Chicago Tribune contacted legal experts about that section, and it appears the Cubs have the advantage. They point out, though, that the section in question, as well as the entire contract in general, is too ambiguous. The contract should keep all the lawyers involved pretty busy.

So what happens next?

After a year of contentious negotiations, Cubs’ chairman Tom Ricketts announced in a video to fans last week that the Cubs were going forward with their plan, without an agreement with the rooftop owners. The team plans to start renovating the clubhouse in July. It should take about five years for the renovations to be completed.

The rooftop owners will not go down without a fight. Both sides are polar opposites, so this will be an epic battle. To give you an idea of how far apart the two sides are, there were negotiations on a buyout. The Cubs offered $50 million to the rooftop owners. The rooftop owners wanted $250 million.

This is not the first time the Cubs have been in war with the neighborhood. In the 1980′s, they went though a battle to install lights in Wrigley. They won that battle and are confident that they will win this one as well.

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