Tom Ricketts fine with slow approach to changing Wrigley Field
BY TONI GINNETTI firstname.lastname@example.org March 29, 2011 10:26PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Tom Ricketts smiles at the question: Would winning the World Series help the Cubs accelerate their dream of transforming Wrigley Field into a modern stadium that retains its old-world charm?
‘‘I’m convinced everything takes time,’’ the chairman said.
After all, it took his family three years to complete the record $845 million purchase of the Cubs from Tribune Co. in October 2009, with the deal closing as the economy plunged.
Amenities such as an electronic video board are things to consider down the road.
‘‘It’s not part of what we’re thinking about now,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘There’s no space for it. Over time, who knows?’’
But a year and a half into their ownership, the Rickettses have anchored their principles, from making the team less dependent on free agency, to player development, to beginning the long-term task of creating a Wrigley Field for the future.
‘‘We’ve always talked about three goals: win a championship, preserve Wrigley Field and be a great neighbor,’’ Ricketts said.
Even if it’s unclear how the Cubs will pay for the longer-term changes, which could hinge on some kind of public financing help, the progress is measurable as the Rickettses begin their second season:
◆ A modernized spring-training facility in Mesa, Ariz., was secured in November when voters approved funding help for the project. The new facility is targeted for completion by 2014, perhaps sooner.
‘‘Other teams had newer and better facilities [built with help from Arizona specialty taxes denied to the Cubs], and it was definitely a front-burner concern to close that discrepancy,’’ Ricketts said.
The Cubs also have begun renovation on their training facility in the Dominican Republic, where future Latin American players will begin their careers.
‘‘That’s organizational consistency for our facilities,’’ Ricketts said.
◆ Revitalizing Wrigley Field continues. Improvements to the locker-room facilities, which began last season, have continued with an expansion of the training room. It now includes X-ray equipment to help quickly diagnose some injuries.
Fans this year will see remodeled Sheffield Grill and Captain Morgan Club eateries, while the Batter’s Eye area in center field will have windows instead of fixed glass ‘‘so people can feel the game,’’ Ricketts said. New menus will feature items from local vendors, such as Vienna hot dogs and D’Agostino’s pizza, and gluten-free choices, among other special-diet fare.
In the background is the continuing replacement of aging brick and mortar.
‘‘Steel and concrete are ongoing things,’’ Ricketts said.
◆ The Cubs have aspired to be more cordial to surrounding businesses, rooftop owners and residents.
‘‘There were a lot of years when there wasn’t great communication with the team,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘We’ve reached out to everyone.’’
The Cubs invested in one of the rooftop clubs last season when it was in danger of financial failure.
‘‘We have a small investment in it, and it gives us an insight into their business,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘The rooftops are our partners, and we like them.’’
The Cubs share 17 percent of all the rooftop revenues under a deal struck in 2004 that ended a feud with then-owner Tribune Co.
The Cubs also have requested the 2014 All Star Game to coincide with the park’s 100th anniversary.
‘‘It would mean $150 million in revenue [for the city],’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘The commissioner [Bud Selig] is open-minded about it — if we can get some of the [ballpark] improvements done.’’
Still on the drawing board is the long-discussed ‘‘triangle building’’ next to Wrigley that would include offices, restaurants and other amenities. But its future depends on uncertain financing.
‘‘It’s part of and can’t be separated from what we have to do to preserve the ballpark,’’ Ricketts said.
Implicit in his comments is the dilemma of seeking public revenue in a climate of strained government funds. The idea drew a chilly reception last fall when it was first raised, and Ricketts defers discussing it for now. Yet it could be the most challenging question facing the ownership family, even as it keeps checking off its to-do list.