Cubs unveil preliminary Wrigley plans
Cubs unveil preliminary plans for Wrigley Field and area
An artists rendering of "Cubs Alley," which would run adjacent to Clark Street, between the proposed Triangle Building and west wall of Wrigley Field.
Aside from park restoration Triangle building concept undergoing transformation
The Cubs have gone through five managers since talk of renovating Wrigley Field and a triangular parcel of land west of the ballpark began in 2001.
Most of their grand plans were put on hold because of economic factors and a change in ownership, leading to the controversial project Chairman Tom Ricketts unveiled last week.
After days of lobbying for political support for the financing of the project, the Cubs on Tuesday released some early renderings of the proposed renovations and development, which include clubhouses built underneath the playing surface, the addition of several upper-deck patios facing Clark and Addison streets, wider concourses and another version of the long-awaited "Triangle" building.
While the public financing portion of the project remains the subject of heated debate, the "renovation and preservation" plan is more creative, and expensive, than the original model.
Trying to find a way to get the most out of limited space at and around Wrigley, the Cubs might dig down for a solution.
"It's a chicken-and-egg issue," Cubs President Crane Kenney said. "If you want to improve the facility, you need to move some things out."
The biggest endeavor involves the home clubhouse, which would expand to an area beneath the spot left fielder Alfonso Soriano currently patrols. The original idea in 2001 was to build an underground clubhouse annex in the Triangle building with state-of-the-art batting cages.
The Cubs eventually decided that would mean too long a walk for players, and engineers convinced them a clubhouse could be built under left field over the course of three offseasons. An excavation project will begin next week to see how far they have to dig to reach bedrock.
"You'd love if you left the building for a year of playing time, (then) you wouldn't have to re-excavate it," Kenney said. "That's one of the reasons the project costs a little more because if you want to keep playing here through the various construction projects, it's a little more expensive. "
Playing elsewhere for a season is not an option, Ricketts said, because it would hurt neighborhood businesses.
Another new wrinkle is the conversion of empty space in the upper deck into patios for concessions and restrooms, similar to the Smirnoff Patio Deck that faces the corner of Clark and Addison. The patio provides no view of the game but has flat-panel TVs and is a popular meeting spot for groups and private parties.
"It doesn't really change the appearance of the park from the outside," Kenney said. "But you are creating huge spaces for people to gather, with great sunshine, so it's sort of a no brainer."
The Cubs say the changes wouldn't violate the city's landmark ordinance, which protects parts of Wrigley Field.
"Whatever is happening, we will not change the structure of the ballpark," Ricketts family spokeswoman Lissa Druss Christman said. "It won't go before landmarks. We are not asking for any landmark changes to the building."
Plans for the Triangle building are still in flux. The renderings did not reveal how tall it would rise.
"The Triangle building, the concept, has been a drawing forever," Ricketts said. "And we're trying to get over that. Once we know we have the resources to set aside, so we can get the park to where it has to be so it can exist for 50 more years, we're going to be sitting down with the community and neighborhood groups to understand what's missing for them and the families here at Wrigleyville."
Restaurants, concessions and parking are a given, but a Cubs museum and a hotel are only possibilities, Kenney said. A pedestrian walkway with a retractable roof, referred to as "Cubs Alley," would be similar to Yawkey Way, a street adjacent to Fenway Park that closes to traffic on game days, creating a lively street-party atmosphere.
"It's a version of Yawkey Way, except we control both sides of the street," Kenney said, pointing out the Red Sox need the city of Boston's permission to close Yawkey Way. "We bought (the land) four years ago, so we own this whole parcel."
The Triangle building has evolved since it was termed "multipurpose" in June 2001, when the Cubs unveiled a plan that included a garage, a restaurant, concessions, restrooms and a Cubs Hall of Fame.
Three years later, the Cubs filed a Planned Development with the city for a revamped version of the Triangle building, along with the open-air pedestrian parkway between the building and the west side of the ballpark, and renovation of the bleachers. Batting cages, pitching mounds and a clubhouse annex for the players were added, and the team announced: "As with all improvements to Wrigley Field to date, the Cubs are prepared to finance the construction themselves."
The bleacher project came to fruition, but Tribune Co. let the Triangle project languish through a prolonged sale of the franchise that finally ended in October 2009.
The Cubs believe the latest renovation plan is the surest way to preserve Wrigley Field for decades to come. The alternative, Ricketts said, is continued patchwork improvements to the existing structure, which turns 100 in 2014.
"If we don't do anything now, the problem doesn't go away," he said. "It gets worse."
Wrigley plan in line with other stadium deals
Ramps inside Wrigley Field would be removed to make a more spacious concourse, including new floors and lighting.
Tom Ricketts' plan to upgrade Wrigley follows long line of other sports franchise owners who sought, received taxpayers' help
That was earlier this month, in Mesa, Ariz., where residents approved a plan to spend $100 million on a new stadium and training facilities for the team.
If Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts was hoping for such a resounding show of support in Chicago for his latest proposal, he hasn't gotten it. He wants public money to fund a more than $200 million renovation of Wrigley Field. But with the state in financial crisis and Mayor Richard Daley tapping reserves to balance Chicago's budget, the reaction has ranged from muted to outrage. It's not at all clear Ricketts will get what he wants.
Yet it's not an unrealistic request, as Ricketts' experience in Mesa showed. On Nov. 2, 64 percent of Mesa voters approved a referendum question on the Cubs training complex. Mesa plans to sell city-owned farmland and raise hotel taxes to pay for the stadium. The margin of victory surprised many, given Mesa's budget constraints and the level of voter anger against big government fueled by tea party activists in conservative Arizona.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith played a big role, selling the idea at Rotary meetings and other events. A big part of his pitch was the emotional attachment local residents and fans have to the Cubs.
"You can't underestimate the icons of your community," Smith said. "You can't place a dollar amount on it, but people think it's important. … We identify with the Cubs, much like people in Chicago identify with the Cubs."
Fresh off his victory in Mesa, Ricketts now seeks a much bigger prize. When they bought the Cubs last year, Ricketts and his siblings pledged to preserve Wrigley for decades to come. Ten days ago, Ricketts announced that the cost of ensuring the 96-year-old iconic stadium remains structurally sound and improving fan and player amenities would total more than $200 million.
He's asking the state to issue bonds to pay for the upgrade. To retire the debt over 35 years, Ricketts would like Chicago and Cook County to forfeit future growth in a 12 percent amusement tax collected on tickets.
The financing plan he proposes continues a time-honored tradition of sports owners seeking public funds to build or renovate stadiums. Host cities have complied, or in some cases given in, to their demands for new, more lucrative venues, leading to a building boom in arenas.
Between 1990 and 2006, 82 new or substantially renovated facilities were opened in the four major professional sports leagues, including two in Chicago. Public funding for these stadiums totaled $18.5 billion, or about 80 percent of the average facility cost, according to Harvard professor Judith Grant Long, an expert in stadium financing. Nearly every major league ballpark was built with government participation.
Owners and their supporters have used several arguments to secure public subsidies. They say they need greater stadium revenue to remain competitive and pay for spiraling player salaries in the free-agent era. Boosters are also quick to point out that large projects like sports stadiums can be potent economic engines, generating new revenue for city coffers, putting people to work and revitalizing neighborhoods.
The perceived benefits have overcome critics who view sport subsidies as an egregious form of corporate welfare, said Robert Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College who specializes in the economics of sports facilities.
Study after study by economists like Baade have found that new stadiums do not generate the economic development that teams project.
"There is no statistically significant positive correlation between sports facility construction and economic development," two economists, John Siegfried and Andrew Zimbalist, said in a widely quoted study about the economics of sports facilities.
But Wrigley, Baade acknowledges, stands as a shining example of how a sports stadium can integrate itself within a neighborhood and produce economic activity that spills into the rest of the community. Opened in 1914, Wrigley Field is the second-oldest ballpark in baseball. after Fenway Park in Boston.
Wrigley continues to be a magnet for fans within and beyond Chicago, despite the team's below-average performance on the field. The Cubs estimate that 37 percent of its fans come from outside Illinois.
The fans spend money inside the stadium as well as in the neighborhood. The Cubs estimate that they generate $618 million in annual economic activity. The team said the economic output also generates nearly $60 million a year in taxes for the city, county and state.
Ricketts, in a press conference Tuesday, said taxpayers will easily recoup their investment in Wrigley. The bond offering, he said, will allow the family to invest $200 million to redevelop land surrounding the ballpark into offices, restaurants and other retail activity at a time when private investment in the city has slowed.
The public and private investment, Ricketts said, will produce an additional $66 million in economic activity inside and outside the stadium in the first year after the project is completed.
Baade is not so sure, because the owner is ignoring the substitution effect.
"People have limited budgets in terms of time and money," Baade said. "If you spend more money at the ballpark, you're not spending those entertainment dollars elsewhere. There's not going to be much of a change in net new spending for the city of Chicago."
Mayor Smith of Mesa heard the same skepticism about the Cubs' plan in his city and decided Mesa could not afford to lose the team. He said the Cubs bring $130 million annually to Arizona, drawing fans who then spend money on hotels, rental cars and restaurants.
Then again, Mesa faced the threat of losing the Cubs. The team had explored moving its spring-training facilities to Florida.
Ricketts can't use the same threat in Chicago. Smith acknowledged that the Cubs will have a harder time selling the public on its financial proposal in Chicago than it did in Mesa.
The debate over the appropriateness of spending public money on Wrigley also is complicated by today's reality of cash-strapped governments, ballooning deficits and growing public sentiment to rein in government spending. The timing of the Cubs' financing plan could not have come at a worse time, government officials said.
Mayor Daley said last week that he would have hard time justifying forfeiting future growth in the amusement tax when the government needs every nickel to balance the budget. The Cubs have promised that the city and county would continue receive $16.1 million that the team collected in ticket taxes in 2009 for the duration of the bonds.
"I understand the concept, but like anything else, I think you have to talk about how you would finance this without jeopardizing, whether it's $5 million, $7 million, $8 million, future growth to the city of Chicago," Daley said.
Still, the Cubs proposal has some political support. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has said he will introduce legislation on the bond offering after Thanksgiving. On Thursday, he acknowledged a legislative deal might not happen by the end of the year, but he left the door open to further negotiations in 2011.
"It might not be done for this year, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility in January," Cullerton said. "We need to educate people as to how this proposal is far less onerous than some of the other deals that we've done with private businesses."
At a minimum, Ricketts has started a conversation about the future of Wrigley. The bond offering may have just been a trial balloon, said Neil deMause, a Brooklyn, N.Y., journalist and outspoken critic of publicly financed stadiums.
"You want people talking about how the public funding will work and not whether it will happen," deMause said. "This is the opening gambit."
I read about the proposed clubhouses underneath the field. It will be interesting to see whether the water table ruins those plans. The White Sox had issues with the water table and from what I've heard, the Cubs will too.
they should do everyone a favor and move the team to alaska
Is there any chance that those preliminary plans include winning more often there? If not, they should! LOL
High Fives / Like - 1 High Fives, 0 Dislikes