One thing Chicago Cubs owners have learned over the last 30 years or so is not to mess with the fundamental look of Wrigley Field. It is the most beloved piece of architecture in the city and anyone who wants to put up too much advertising or fool around with configuration is risking the most massive turnoff of fans in a single swoop possible short of disavowing Harry Caray.
There has always been a fear of such tampering, a belief that callous owners and crazy politicians (both of whom have littered the Cubs’ past) would collude on anything for a buck and wreck Wrigley’s rich heritage. That’s one reason why Chicagoans worked to make Wrigley a National Historic Landmark–so it would take extra effort to screw it up. You can bet how the Ricketts Family now invests $300 million in the park will be scrutinized intently.
However, Wrigley was built in 1914, so every few decades or so it does fray around the edges. The place gets new ivy hung on the right-field wall every year, but many parts of the park are not quite so fresh. I have attended post-game press conferences in rooms so small the manager couldn’t stretch his legs and we all had to duck to avoid wiring on our way to that secret room a maze of hallways removed from the clubhouse. The restrooms have not been exactly been beloved either. So it’s not as if a little remodeling isn’t warranted.
Owners in place for only a few years, the Ricketts Family is planning to spend $300 million on Wrigley Field to make it gleam, to figure out how to cram in a few more seats, and overall give it a happy face for its upcoming 100th birthday. This will all be done within the rules limitations imposed from becoming a National Historic Landmark and from being tucked into a neighbhorhood that has no room for expansion.
For those who have never visited Wrigley for a ball game, the biggest surprise they will receive–and that’s knowing the facts in advance–is how incredibly snugly Wrigley is squeezed into a combined residential-business area. Fans think of ball parks with a little bit of space around them, even those in urban settings, as they approach the gates on foot after they park their cars in spacious lots. Well, Wrigley is literally feet away from the nearest business and there are no parking lots. Parking is so scarce at Wrigley that entrpreneurs have carved out little patches of parking a few blocks away that charge $40 per game. I had a friend who was a season ticket-holder who bought a season-ticket parking space at $20 per game in a garage more than a mile walk away.
We all know that there is only one ball park in the majors that can be compared with Wrigley and that’s Fenway Park in Boston, built in 1912. For a time about a decade ago Red Sox management was 100 percent committed to building a new field and scouted potential sites all over the city and suburbs. A different ownership group rolled in and decided to stick with Fenway, but do everything it could to spruce up and moderize, expand and creatively redesign concession areas and seating. A new section was devised in right field. Seats were added on top of the Green Monster. Alternations were made behind the plate. The Red Sox carried out their plan with incredible care and Fenway Park is more popular than ever.
There has never been as strong a political groundswell to relocate Wrigley or replace Wrigley with a new stadium as Boston fans lived through. With the announcement this week of the Cubs going the renovation route it’s clear the team has benefited from the Red Sox example–show off the old, but complement it with the new, right where you already are.
It was not so long ago that $300 million would buy you one huge, beautiful new ballpark, or even two or three teams. Now it won’t even cover the cost of the Los Angeles Angels‘ outfield. The cost of doing business does keep going up.