Cubs get OK to tear down the wall, add more seats
The Cubs got the go-ahead Thursday to squeeze more money out of 99-year-old Wrigley Field — by moving the brick wall three feet closer to the field to make way for 56 premium-priced seats behind home plate that will shrink the size of foul territory.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the latest in a serious of changes to the historic stadium, but not before a pair of commission members demanded that the Cubs abandon the piecemeal approach to renovating Wrigley.
Commissioners John Baird and Mary Ann Smith, a former 48th Ward alderman, pointed to a series of changes the commission has been asked to approve in recent years.
They include: a 1,791-seat bleacher expansion and three rows of seats behind home plate; advertising signs behind home plate, along the left-field line and on the outfield walls; construction of a Budweiser Patio and electronic sign in right field and the infamous Toyota Sign in left field.
“Our only mission … is to look after the historic landmark assets of Chicago. So, we really would like to see the Cubs bring us, to the best of our ability, how you foresee moving forward with the stadium over the next five years or 10 years. Every for-profit or not-for-profit has to do this,” Smith said.
“This is gonna come back again and again and again because it is our rock-bottom, gut-level responsibility. So, you might hear someone say something [to the effect that], ‘We move to not hear any further Cubs issues or permits or anything out of this commission until we get a big-picture discussion.’ That could happen.”
Mike Lufrano, senior vice-president for community affairs and general counsel for the Cubs, said the team would like nothing more than to nail down an elusive, $300 million renovation plan that would preserve Wrigley for the next 30 years.
“We’re working with Ald. [Tom] Tunney and others in the community about signage and hoping there’ll be a plan there. ... [But] financing is the hard question right now. I don’t want to bring you a plan, have everybody get excited about it, then say, ‘Well, it can’t happen,’” Lufrano said.
Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, team owner Tom Ricketts was still hoping to use 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to help finance a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was prepared to sign off on that plan, a $150 million variation of a financing scheme he once called a “non-starter.”
The other $150 million would have come from relaxing Wrigley’s landmark status to allow the Cubs to wring more advertising and sponsorship revenue out of the stadium.
Until there is an agreement, Lufrano is essentially urging the commission to trust the Cubs to be sensitive about the changes they make.
“If they’re not done sympathetically — if they’re not done in a way that our fans appreciate — the biggest onus is gonna be on us,” Lufrano said.
As for the decision to move the brick wall to make way for another row of seats behind the plate, Lufrano advised Cub fans to prepare for more foul balls.
“There’s a three-foot increment into the field, so to the extent that those balls would have been fair before, they will now be foul. … It works the same for both teams,” he said.
The changes approved Thursday will also pave the way for the Cubs to add new electrical vaults tucked beneath the grandstands in right and left field.
“It will allow us to accommodate the electrical needs of a 99-year-old park ….When the park was built in 1914, it didn’t anticipate the electrical needs of 2012,” Lufrano said.