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October 30, 2009
Ricketts plans Fenway-style reno of Wrigley
Tom Ricketts was sworn in as the new owner of the Chicago Cubs today, and gave a long interview to the Chicago Sun-Times, much of it on the matter of the future of Wrigley Field. The upshot: He plans some renovations, costing "significantly less" than $200 million, but nothing that would dramatically change baseball's second-oldest ballpark as it nears its 100th anniversary in 2014.
Ricketts said he intends to work out "a five- to seven-year plan" for renovations during each offseason, most of it focused on the building's interior and adjacent plots of land, not the seating areas:
I see that bowl staying essentially the way it is. People like that. You're close to the field, good sight lines, it's good. Behind that, in the stadium will be better amenities, and you'll feel more comfortable when you get up to go get food or go to the restroom or anything like that...
We can look at more washrooms, we can look at some of the congestion on the concourses, we can look at a few other things that will make it a little easier for fans in the short run.
And while Ricketts called the current Wrigley skyboxes "Stalin-esque," he said he has no plans to add lots of corporate seating: "One of the nice things about Wrigley, we have great corporate sponsors, but it's not really a corporate place. It's not a corporate experience. It's not like sky boxes are driving the revenue here. And that's just fine with us."
If all this sounds reminiscent of the Boston Red Sox owners' recent renovation of Fenway Park, Ricketts made the connection explicit, saying that "to be able to rehab your stadium and improve it in kind of just the offseason, that's something that we have to strive to emulate. We have to do that.
You can't copy every page of the playbook, but certainly they've done stuff that we would try to emulate."
Ricketts added that he has "no plans" to ask for any taxpayer dollars (though we'll see if he pursues historic preservation tax credits, as the Red Sox did), and made clear that the state takeover plan that helped get Rod Blagojevich in such hot water is dead. And he also let slip some details of what that $400 million "renovation" would have entailed:
The proposal that the state was considering—and we really weren't very much a part of these discussions at all—was to basically keep the marquee and store the scoreboard for a year, and tear everything else down.
Their thought was that they would basically take it down for a year or two and just keep the brick walls, basically keep the shell, and redo the whole inside. In another park or another situation that might be an answer that's useful. But here, I just don't see it. You have all these people who have spent all this time and money over the last 10 or 15 years building new stadiums to look old. Well, why don't we just take our old stadium and fix it up a little bit?
The other thing is I just don't think it would be the right thing to do.
All in all, Ricketts sounds like he's eager to follow John Henry's lead in doing a ballpark renovation that is more preservation and upgrade of the fan experience than an attempt to modernize Wrigley. And hey — if he needs a project manager, you know there's a good one available.