Would $300M Wrigley Field Renovation Destroy Tradition or Preserve It?
Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are the last old-time, classic ballparks left standing.
Perhaps the most amazing legacy of Bud Selig's 15 years as baseball commissioner has been the boom of ballpark building around MLB. Virtually every one of the 30 clubs are playing in a new or significantly renovated stadium.
But Fenway Park in Boston has undergone significant changes over the past 10 years. Seats were added atop the Green Monster in left field. Concourses and clubhouses were expanded. Luxury seats and suites were added behind home plate. New HD and LED scoreboards were installed.
Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein and business president Crane Kenney have similar ambitions for Wrigley Field. As reported by the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan, the Cubs want to invest $300 million into renovating and updating their home ballpark.
But the team needs some concessions from the city of Chicago to open up revenue streams that can fund the project. Those allowances include features taken for granted in every other ballpark in MLB, such as signage in the outfield and playing more night games.
The improvements and additions that the Cubs want to make to Wrigley Field include additional seating and luxury boxes, expanded concourses, new clubhouses and batting cages, along with possible new LED boards and a Jumbotron screen.
Does that sound at all familiar? Is it any coincidence that Epstein was sought by the Cubs to help oversee changes to Wrigley Field, since he was part of the Red Sox front office when Fenway was being updated?
With the renovations to Fenway Park, the Red Sox's home ballpark has transformed from an anachronism to a revitalized venue that strikes a balance between the classic and the modern. Questions about how much longer the Red Sox will play there and how much longer the ballpark will stand are no longer being asked.
Clearly, that same mix of old and new is what the Cubs have in mind for Wrigley Field.
The team doesn't want to tear down a ballpark that's existed for 99 years. But making the stadium more fan friendly (especially to those fans who can spend a lot of money in new restaurants and luxury suites) and creating new sources of revenue is vital to the lifeblood of any venue's existence.
Of course, there will be some who don't want to see these sorts of changes made to one of baseball's remaining 100-year-old (or close to it) ballparks.
Many purists won't want to see the intrusion of more advertisements near the field. They prefer not to see the architecture of the stadium change, especially if it means accommodating more fat-cat corporate fans.
Those who own buildings near Wrigley Field and profit from selling seats and holding events on rooftops overlooking the ballpark certainly have a vested interest in whether or not those views would be obscured by new signs, seats and scoreboards. Lawsuits seem like a very real possibility there.
But it has to be emphasized that this would be helping to preserve perhaps the most famous ballpark in baseball.
Wrigley Field wouldn't be demolished with a near-replica constructed next to it, as happened with Yankee Stadium. It wouldn't be an aesthetically unappealing mix of a new facility shoehorned into the facade of the old structure, as Chicago already has with Soldier Field.
Ask Detroit Tigers fans if they wished the team had tried this approach instead of abandoning Tiger Stadium for Comerica Park.
The Tigers have played in their new ballpark for 13 years now, and their old home was demolished nearly four years ago, so emotions don't run as high as they once did. An entire generation of Tigers fans has grown up with its team playing nowhere else but Comerica Park.
But it was sad for baseball to lose another classic ballpark where some of the game's all-time greats once played. No sport reveres its past and tradition more than baseball, so the existence of any stadium where a line can be drawn from legends like Babe Ruth to the stars of today is special.
The city of Chicago and the Cubs don't have to face such a decision. The history of Wrigley Field would still be there for everyone to see, even with more modern facades and amenities.
The famous marquee will still be outside the stadium. Ivy will still cover the outfield walls. The hand-operated scoreboard—perhaps one of the best physical representations of baseball that exists in this country—will still stand in center field.
People won't have to look at a roughened field where a mighty stadium once stood. No one will have to explain to younger fans that their car is parked where a team's dugout used to be. There won't just be a plaque or memorial representing something much larger from a bygone era.
It's also worth pointing out that the Cubs plan on footing the bill—$300 million, close to the $285 million the Red Sox spent on Fenway Park—for this renovation project themselves.
Yes, the team needs help from the city to raise the necessary funds to update Wrigley Field, but nothing the Cubs are asking for seems unreasonable. This isn't a situation like we saw in Miami, where taxpayers paid for 70 percent of the Marlins' new ballpark.
If the Cubs are allowed to proceed with their plans, it's the best possible solution for all parties involved.
The team gets an updated facility that allows it to compete with every other team in MLB. Fans will enjoy the modern amenities and concessions found at most modern sporting venues. Chicago gets an attraction that becomes even more of a destination. And baseball maintains a piece of the history so integral to the game.
Now Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel just has to approve the Cubs' plans and let progress take its course.
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