Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: The Revised "Expansion" Plan Details

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Obsessive Wrigley Renovation Watch: The Revised “Expansion” Plan Details

Chicago Cubs

respect wrigleyNow that we know that the Chicago Cubs are planning to move ahead with the renovation of Wrigley Field, even without a side agreement with the rooftops in place (and knowing that the rooftops now say they will sue), let’s look at exactly what the revised plan will entail, which you can view at WrigleyField.com.

This is the plan, by the way, that will be submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on June 5 for approval. Chicago Cubs VP of Communication and Community Affairs Julian Green tells me that this revised plan will not need to be approved by any other commission or the full City Council. Those approvals have already been secured as part of the process last year, and the Landmarks Commission is, essentially, running the show at this point.

At its broadest strokes, the plan remains the same: the Cubs will improve/restore Wrigley Field structurally and aesthetically, player facilities will be improved/expanded dramatically, advertising signage will be added throughout, fan amenities will be added/improved, the outside of the outfield walls will be bumped out to expand the concourse in the outfield, and the plaza and hotel will be constructed and developed.

Among the important changes requiring Commission approval:

  • The JumboTron in left field will be reduced from 5700 square feet to just under 4000 square feet. A second, smaller video board would be added to right field, at about 2400 square feet.
  • Four additional – that is, added to the one already planned for right field – LED advertising signs would be added around the outfield, each up to 650 square feet in size (for comparison, the Toyota sign in left right now is about 360 square feet). My opinion? The Cubs would have to be very careful about the implementation here, as the view out of Wrigley is currently pretty great, and they’re not going to want to dramatically clutter the outfield. Two signs was going to be fine. Seven signs is quite a bit dicier. If you look at other parks, though, obviously this is what all teams do, including the Red Sox at Fenway.
  • Additional outfield lights would be added.
  • Additional seating and open spaces in the bleachers would be added, though I don’t believe the overall seating capacity at Wrigley is being increased significantly. (The bleachers are being “expanded,” is how I would read that.)

Among the important changes that do not require Commission approval:

  • The bullpens would be relocated to the outfield, under the bleachers (but visible through screens). I don’t love the idea of moving the bullpens from their present location, but I understand the desire to do so. It’s always been a little unsafe to have them right there on the field, the way they currently are. At the same time … it’s always been pretty cool.
  • The Cubs’ player facilities will be expanded from 11,000 square feet to 30,000 (the previously-approved plan was just 19,000 square feet), and they would expand, underground, out into the plaza area (i.e., outside of Wrigley’s current footprint).
  • The visitor’s player facilities will also be expanded further.

The added signage would appear to be the most significant change, and it’s one that you could argue is directly pointed at the rooftops: “You want to sue rather than come to an agreement?”, the Cubs are essentially saying. “Well, fine – we’re going to go for what we originally wanted in the outfield, rather than the modified plan we crafted over the past year to try and accommodate you. And it just so happens that this version has the potential to be very bad for you.”

I highly recommend you read this Tribune piece and this Sun-Times piece for the political side of the revised plan. I can’t help but wonder about some things: Mayor Emanuel has always seen the privately-funded renovation and development of Wrigley Field as a great thing for the city of Chicago, and a great feather in his cap. He has also pushed the Cubs and the rooftops to get a deal done so that the renovation can get started. The Landmarks Commission is comprised of mayoral appointees. If it’s true that this revised plan need be approved only by the Landmarks Commission before moving forward, from a political perspective, is it fair to conclude that approval is pretty likely?

Consider the quotes in the Sun-Times piece from Ald. Pat O’Connor, described by the Sun-Times as the mayor’s City Council floor leader, who had been serving as a mediator in the Cubs/rooftops negotiations: “My impression is, this is a very real proposal. They made an effort to try and resolve this for the short term and basically have been unsuccessful. I would think if it conforms to the landmark ordinance, they have a right to it – and my impression is, it conforms. There’s a very good possibility [it will be approved].” I’m not going to say that the Cubs already know that they’ve got approval lined up, and that this was the nuclear option they were holding over the rooftops all along, but, well, I wouldn’t call you crazy for connecting those dots.

That said, nothing is ever a given in the political process in Chicago – you know this – and we’ll see what happens on June 5. Alderman Tom Tunney, who is not directly involved in the Landmarks Commission process, is very opposed to the new plan, and you can read his thoughts in each of the Tribune and Sun-Times pieces.

As for the anticipated lawsuit side of things …

You may recall that the word “expansion” is pretty critical in the anticipated Cubs/rooftops legal dispute, given that their revenue-sharing agreements reportedly provides (emphasis mine):

6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

The Cubs have taken heart, and the word “expansion” or “expanded” appears 28 times on the plan page at WrigleyField.com. To my mind, even the previously-approved plan was pretty clearly an expansion (the walls (upon which the advertising signage would sit) were being bumped out significantly, and Wrigley’s footprint was growing – what is that, if not an expansion?).

Now, the Cubs are really underscoring that this is an expansion project, both in the way they talk about it, and in the ask. The bleacher area is being expanded, as are the outfield walls. The player facilities are being expanded outside of current Wrigley. The signage is being put up on those expansions. It’s an expansiony expansion of expansions, the argument would go.

Taking no position on the legal side of things, I say simply this: the construction at Wrigley Field is primarily about the preservation and renovation, but, in conjunction with those efforts, the Cubs will be expanding Wrigley Field both out of necessity and revenue-related desire. Those aspects of the renovation have been approved by City Council. Is that an “expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities”? You tell me.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.