Wrigley renovation battle enters new, interminable phase

Did I really write way back in July of Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ renovation plan for Wrigley Field, “And it’s done“? Man, what was I thinking? This is never going to be done:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to give the Cubs more flexibility on scheduling night games at Wrigley Field, and the team has agreed to drop a proposed pedestrian bridge over Clark Street from its $500 million renovation plan.

Yes, the city council has already voted on the plan, but apparently in Chicago first you vote, then you decide what it is that you voted for. The new Emanuel plan, introduced at last night’s council meeting, would reduce the total number of night games per year from 46 to 43, but give the Cubs more flexibility in rescheduling them at the last minute (which MLB’s TV partners like to do when they suddenly decide a game is important enough to air in prime time — something it’s hard to picture ever applying to a Cubs game, but anyway). Plus the pedestrian bridge will be nixed, which the Chicago Tribune calls “good news for neighborhood groups,” though it’s not entirely clear why.

Anyway, nothing is being built anytime soon regardless, because Ricketts still won’t move ahead with doing anything without a promise from rooftop owners not to sue for breach of their contract with the team if renovations block their views, and the rooftop owners are making no promises. Which led last week to alderman Tom Tunney, formerly the main opponent of the Wrigley renovation, loudly demanding to know when the Cubs are going to get started, already.

Actually, maybe I don’t want this to ever end. It’s way more entertaining than watching the Cubs.

20 comments on “Wrigley renovation battle enters new, interminable phase

  1. Neil, it’s a way to increase attendance. Friends of mine went to Wrigley in 2013 so they could see the ballpark again “before the renovation”. Implying, of course, that the beauty of Wrigley would be lost forever once the 4,000,000 square footage (did I add a few zeros?) of signs and Daktronics boards appears.

    If the Cubs can continue to say “next year” for the Wrigley-changing renovations will people flock to Wrigley each year so they can see it the final year before the renovations? It’s also another way to keep people from talking about the Cubs win-loss record but still talk about the Cubs.

  2. “…apparently in Chicago first you vote, then you decide what it is that you voted for. ”
    Yep, that about sums it up! The City Council rubber stamps EVERYTHING…and I mean EVERYTHING the Mayor proposes…and then when it is discovered (too late) that they voted to approve a HORRIBLE deal (see 75+ year Parking Meter Lease agreement) there is much hand-wringing and calls for investigation into “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN!?!?”
    What continues to NOT be addressed by the media, or any reporters interviewing Rickett’s et al. is why ground isn’t being broken on those elements of the renovation that have NOTHING to do with the rooftops…namely, improving the inner concourses and player’s clubhouse/locker room areas. Those areas are NOT affected at all by potential lawsuits from Rooftop Clubs.

  3. @ ALK – That’s right – Myself, and what appeared to be a few thousand other fans, attended the last home game of the season this year at Wrigley, and I ended up talking to a young guy who had flown into Chicago that morning from L.A., jumped on the Blue Line to Addison, and as he said, followed all the people in Cubs gear to the buses on Addison which took him to Wrigley Field.
    When I asked why he flew out, he informed me he wanted to see Wrigley Field, before they “pimp it out with Jumbotrons and all that crap!”

  4. Chicago has beautiful sports buildings…can’t wait for the new and improved wrigley field

  5. Dan: No doubt many are flocking to Wrigley for that reason, but the hard truth is that Cubs attendance is down dramatically since Ricketts took over. Some of that is due to appallingly bad play, but not all. Many die hard Cub fans have had enough of the changes made to the business that is the Cubs.

    The owner owns the business and, so long as he meets his obligations to his league partners, can do what he wants. However, much of the allure built around the Cubs during the Trib years was based on the fact that this was a business that ‘operated differently’ (though at times, not all that differently). That’s changing. I don’t know if we’ll see crowds of 10-15k again (which were not uncommon when I first began watching the club), but the days of 40k every game appear to be over.

  6. To be fair, the Cubs have also lost 90 games three years in a row for the first time since 1960-62. There’s bad, and then there’s “Our best player is a shortstop who hit .245” bad.

  7. But you haven’t really felt the pain unless you have watched the last three 100+ loss seasons for the Astros. At least the Cubs don’t have the “butt slide” as a highlight of their season. Or a (now released) catcher attempting to “stop the clock” by spiking the ball at home plate. The umpire didn’t allow the time out as the runner scored. That’s pain.

  8. True, Neil. But while the club may not have strung together three consecutive 90 loss season since that time, it has been bad or very bad for most of the last 30 years (roughly, the trib ownership years). Yet fan still showed up in numbers…

  9. It hasn’t been this bad, this consistently, for a while. I’m going to need to see some more data points before I’m convinced that people are avoiding the ballpark just because of who owns the team.

  10. Cub fans are in denial. People go for the stadium and bars. Losing games in the burbs will see attendance drop to 20-25k per game. All the players in this argument suck, but the Ricketts are the worse and will get half that hood for free as long as they have a buddy in city hall.

  11. “I’m going to need to see some more data points ”

    Hmmmn. Ok. Not that I have any vested interest in convincing you Ricketts is evil (you Met fans have enough of trouble of your own!), but some additional data:

    How about 1999-2002?
    67 – 95
    65 – 97
    88 – 74 (WTH????)
    67 – 95

    Curiously, the Cubs finished exactly 30 games back in all three of the losing seasons (name me another MLB team to achieve that?)… but the winning season actually produced the second lowest attendance of the four (we distrust flashy above .500 ballclubs round these parts…).

    Not a major dropoff in attendance during this period… 2.8m, 2.8m, 2.7m, 2.7m.

    Cub attendance peaked in 2008 at 3.3m,

    2007 3.25m
    2008 3.30m
    2009 3.17m
    2010 3.06m
    2011 3.02m
    2012 2.88m
    2013 2.64m

    I agree that five straight 5th place finishes (all but the last in a 6 team div) don’t help, but the Cubs slid from 1st (no, really) in 2003 to 6th in 2006 and the total paid stayed very strong all the way through (2.9m, 3.2m, 3.1m,3.1m).

    I haven’t tried this myself, but I’m told if you rearrange the numbers from the Cubs year – year results, then enscribe them onto a vinyl record and play it backwards at a slow and non-constant speed, it sounds very evil and menacing and Tipper Gore would not like it.

    The meaning of this will be lost on anyone not at least 45 years old, I would think…

  12. As a college football fan, I want to see the renovation take place so that Northwestern Football can resume its Wrigley Field series.


    Based on NU’s future schedules, there is a decent chance it would be my Badgers at Wrigley in 2016 if the retractable dugout/seating can be built in any of the next three off-seasons.


  13. @ALK, I went to see an afternoon game on a weekday last summer, and it was packed full of “fans” that didn’t even care about the game.

    I hate to say it, but leave this one alone. Wrigley is a dump. I don’t care if the local orphanage pays for the renovations! It needs to be done! Wrigley is absolutely horrible. It needs to get a special exemption from this site’s wrath!

  14. “It needs to get a special exemption from this site’s wrath!”

    Huh? At this point, the only thing stopping Ricketts from getting started on the renovation is Ricketts.

  15. Keith…I was just adding a comment about the stadium. I have no idea what you’re trying to correct me on, I’m not obsessed with the day to day technicalities like some people are on here.

  16. As an observer of Team Rickett’s shenanigans, I am constantly amazed by a few points that are never mentioned. These include:

    1. The fact that Wrigley Field is a 100 year old facility,
    2. NL Central Opponents homes: Busch Stadium (Cardinals). Miller Park, (Brewers) PNC Field (Pirates). Great American Ballpark (Reds). All taxpayer funded. All post year 2000.
    3. Limited night game schedule.
    4. Virtually no sky boxes or other luxury (i.e. $$$$ makers) amenities.
    5. No parking revenue.
    6. Very difficult to reach area of Chicago from most suburban locales due to lack of highway access..

    My point? Pouring a half billion dollars (with the public’s part of the tab virtually unspecified) into a geriatric stadium that the Cubs ownership will be satisfied with for a few years before demanding a brand new facility (either in Downtown Chicago or a well-heeled suburban jurisdiction) is pure insanity. The world’s not going to end, Cubbies, if the northsiders exit Wrigleyville. Especially if they can get their new play pen without completely soaking the rest of us.

  17. Actually, one additional point: 12 miles (or so) from Wrigley is a Chicago suburb named Rosemont. Earlier this year, Rosemont dangled an offer in front of the Cubs, for an essentially free stadium site, much closer to the center of population of the Cubs (mainly suburban) fan base. While I despise this MLB Welfare as much as anyone else, this plan actually made sense, due to the town having several major Interstate Routes passing through, three commuter rail lines, a CTA mass transit line connecting to both Downtown Chicago and O’Hare, and a number of major surface routes. Add to this an end to neighborhood squabbles over night games and inebriated fans, vastly improved accessibility, and actual parking availability, and one is left wondering what exactly are the reasons for pouring a half-billion dollars into Wrigley. Which at the end of the day will be an obscenely overpriced 100 year stadium.

  18. Sorry Cubbies: one last point to consider. The Ricketts family is based in Omaha. A town that has very real big league ambitions, with a metro region population (over a 12 – 15 county area of Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa) nearing 1.25 million. A very rapidly growing area. And unlike other big league wannabees (Indianapolis, Columbus, Orlando, Charlotte, Salt Lake City) a city with a brand new MLB scale facility (Ameritrade Ball Park – new home of the College World Series). Incidentally, Ameritrade is a retail stock brokerage based in Omaha. Owned by the Ricketts family. Who also own the Cubs. Sorry Cubbies, The Ricketts may yet pull the ultimate trick or treat this Halloween: give us everything we want, or you may have to go to Omaha to see the Cubs play. Impossible? That’s what the fans of the Seattle Supersonics thought a couple years back. Booooo!!

  19. There are many places I could start here, but I think I’ll do so with Omaha’s Nielsen market ranking, which is 75th. That’s right behind Honolulu, Des Moines, Spokane, and Springfield (MO), though it is a bigger market than Toledo or Portland (ME).

    As for Rosemont, it’s indeed more accessible to the western suburbs, but less so to everyone else. And baseball, unlike football, requires people to be able to easily get to games after work, and nobody works in Rosemont. And while Rosemont may be offering land, Ricketts would still be on the hook for building a near-billion-dollar stadium. And then he’d be leaving the White Sox with a monopoly on the city proper.

    Actually, Omaha may be the more realistic option.

  20. Joe Ricketts has already purchased real estate around Wrigley including a site for a new hotel. Given that Ricketts has no intention of ever leaving Wrigley why waste time talking about it? Wricketts is just trying to get as much revenue out of the Cub fans as he possibly can. More seats. more night games, higher ticket and food prices.