A tale of two landmarks, one of which isn’t a landmark

The Boston Red Sox this week formally requested that Fenway Park be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in order to get $40 million in federal tax credits on the just-completed renovations to the soon-to-be-100-year-old stadium. (This is different from the $40 million in state tax credits the Sox are getting for the same work.)

Skipping right over the whole tax credit issue, the New York Times cheap irony desk immediately noted that Boston is not Chicago:

Over in Wrigleyville, the Cubs say they are hamstrung by a City Council decision to give landmark designation to parts of 97-year-old Wrigley — including the marquee, ivy, scoreboard, and bleachers. Not only does the local distinction not come with federal tax dollars, but the Cubs say the landmark status is a factor in their failure to follow the Fenway rebuilding model.

“If you’re going to restore and maintain the facility, you’re going to have to take parts of it down and rebuild it,” the Cubs’ president of business operations, Crane Kenney, said in 2008. “Landmarking authorization doesn’t let you do that.”

Of course, the national register isn’t actually landmark status (which Fenway doesn’t have), and Chicago landmarks law doesn’t actually prevent renovations so long as “historic” architectural features are retained, but why ruin a good story? Though it does take away a bit from the contrast between the two teams when the Times reveals that “the Cubs have discussed a listing in the National Register, but will not pursue it until after Wrigley has been renovated” … in other words, just like the Red Sox did.

As for the $80 million the Red Sox will reap in tax credits — actually more like $50 million, given that more revenues for the team also means bigger revenue-sharing checks to the rest of MLB — that’s undeniably public money, but not actually a special subsidy, since it’s a tax credit that anyone can avail themselves of if they’re rehabbing a landmarked building. Whether you think historic preservation credits are a good idea in the first place likely depends on your feelings about whether you think maintaining historic buildings is a public good — I’d say yes, though a cumulative 40% tax credit seems a bit richer than necessary — but that’s a larger issue to take up with the U.S. Congress and Massachusetts legislature.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts spent $20 million this week to buy a McDonald’s across the street from Wrigley. That would fit well with a Fenway-style redo of Wrigley — the Sox bought several buildings adjacent to Fenway for office and kitchen operations, though those weren’t across the street from the stadium as the McDonald’s building is from Wrigley. Still, it looks like Ricketts intends on spending some more time trying to squeeze some stadium cash out of the city of Chicago before he commits to anything like that.


5 comments on “A tale of two landmarks, one of which isn’t a landmark

  1. Neil, I’m a Cubs season ticket holder who wants Wrigley to stay in as near-to-current form as possible, and has no argument with denying the Cubs one single penny of the public’s money.

    But please trust me when I say, as someone who lives close to it and visits the park dozens of times a year, it is some of these very unchangeable landmark-status features that keep Wrigley from being a better place in many ways. It’s the best ballpark I could imagine having the privilege to be in, but make no mistake – it’s a cramped dump that needs to be brought up to post-war (WW2 I mean..) standards in many ways. Yet the landmark law (or perhaps more accurately, the interpretation of said law) is extremely restrictive and keeps the team from doing at least some of the things it needs to do. Yes, the Rickets family should pay for it themselves, but it does need to be fixed, and the local landmark ordinances get in the way of that.

  2. Neil, I’m a Cubs season ticket holder who wants Wrigley to stay in as near-to-current form as possible, and has no argument with denying the Cubs one single penny of the public’s money.

    But please trust me when I say, as someone who lives close to it and visits the park dozens of times a year, it is some of these very unchangeable landmark-status features that keep Wrigley from being a better place in many ways. It’s the best ballpark I could imagine having the privilege to be in, but make no mistake – it’s a cramped dump that needs to be brought up to post-war (WW2 I mean..) standards in many ways. Yet the landmark law (or perhaps more accurately, the interpretation of said law) is extremely restrictive and keeps the team from doing at least some of the things it needs to do. Yes, the Rickets family should pay for it themselves, but it does need to be fixed, and the local landmark ordinances get in the way of that.

  3. Ricketts should be working on the landmarks commission and the board of aldermen to okay his designs, then, instead of lobbying the governor and mayor for cash. I find it really hard to believe that Chicago officials wouldn’t approve a Fenway-style renovation of Wrigley, so long as the historic parts of the stadium are preserved.

    Admittedly, it’s tougher in Chicago because, outside of the Triangle Building site, there’s no adjacant land to expand out into to make for bigger concourses, etc. But a creative architect should be able to find a way to move as much as possible off-site to make room for things that have to be in the main building (concessions and restrooms, basically).

  4. City Council approval has nothing to do with it, as they don;t really control anything related to this – they can’t take down even the ivy, the scoreboard is sacred, and – if you’ve never been there – there really and truly is nowhere to expand.

    Don’t forget, this is a pretty divided city in many ways – half the city actively roots against the Cubs, and it’s too politically divisive an issue to garner wide support for landmark council changes.

    On three sides of the stadium (N, E, and S) there is literally zero room to even move a wall out 5 feet -the side walk between the building and Addison (South side of the building itself) is maybe 6-8 feet wide at one point. The triangle plot of land is the only place to go, and that is along one side of the stadium (west) and nowhere near the complete length of the stadium. The concessions are so cramped as to be laughable, and the restrooms really cramped. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, Yes, a creative architect may be able to get some more in there, but really, there’s just no more room there (in 3 out of 4 directions, quite literally no room).

  5. I’ve been there about a half-dozen times, most recently in 2009. (10th-inning walkoff walk by Jake Fox!) The place is beyond cramped, I agree … but then, the same complaint was once leveled at Fenway, too. And the Cubs are still able to sell the place out regardless, so clearly it’s not hurting their bottom line.

    An upgraded Wrigley would be lovely, though. The trick is to figure out if there are any functions that can be moved out of the stadium proper to make way for expanded concessions and restrooms — presumably to a new building in the triangle. I have *not* seen a map of how Wrigley’s interior space is used; if it’s not as inefficient as Fenway’s was pre-renovation, then it’ll be a tougher job.

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