Ah, baseball, the national pastime beloved for peanuts, crackerjacks, and stadium design disputes.
Fans’ love for the vintage look and feel of the sport’s historic stadiums have prompted teams across the country to build ballparks like Camden Yards and Miller Park, family-friendly temples to nostalgia and hot dogs.
Now, the granddaddy stadium that inspired them all, Chicago’s ivy-clad Wrigley Field, is giving itself a $575 million upgrade, including an underground clubhouse, additional seats, and new outfield signs. Yesterday, according to the Chicago Tribune, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted unanimously to approve the plans, a year after sending Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and his team back to the drawing board.
Two major aesthetic updates are on deck for the Friendly Confines, which turned 100 years old earlier this year: Expanding seating in the bleachers and along the infield, and installing seven new signs in the outfield. Crain’s estimates that the signs could generate an additional $10-$20 million in revenue each year–a significant increase for a club that has seen its average attendance drop to new lows.
While Cubs executives have portrayed the renovations as a matter of survival, neighbors and historical sticklers have cried foul. Traditions at Wrigley are sacred: Fans “root, root, root for the Cubbies” from favorite seats handed down from one generation to the next and watch the analog center field scoreboard update by hand at the top and bottom of every inning.
The commission continues to impose requirements that would preserve the field’s cultural resonance, including provisions added yesterday that prohibit flashing or moving lights on the new signs and encourage salvaging the bricks that will be moved when the seating expands. But now that Ricketts has won the blessing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appoints the commission, that nit-picking seems unlikely to pose a threat.
Now the only thing standing between Ricketts and home plate is Wrigley’s vocal neighbors, most notably the owners of the lucrative rooftops overlooking Wrigley on Waveland and Sheffield avenues. They have been entangled in a series of lawsuits against the Cubs since 2002 and protested the plans from the start, for fear that additional outfield signs and a large video screen would obstruct their views of the diamond.
After the vote, the Cubs made clear that the threat of further lawsuits would not delay their breaking ground. “In short, we are ready to go,” Crane Kenney, president of business operations, told the [i]Chicago Tribune[/i]. “With your support today, we’ll preserve Wrigley Field for generations to come.”
The major renovations to the ballpark itself are scheduled to be done in time for Opening Day 2015. But if fans face delays, they know how to exercise patience: They’ve been waiting for the Cubbies (39-52 so far this season) to win their first World Series since 1908.
[H/T the Chicago Tribune]