The long awaited plan to restore Wrigley Field is finally being made public with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts expected to unveil the proposed improvements Wednesday during a morning speech at the City Club of Chicago who is holding an event at Maggiano's in Chicago.
The plan, which team officials are calling a restoration of the 99 year old stadium provides for significant upgrades for the players as well as greatly improved amenities for fans. The plan will include a dramatically improved clubhouse which is expected to be one of the first priorities when construction commences at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Currently, the Cubs have the smallest and most outdated home clubhouse in all of baseball and have one of the smallest weight training areas of any professional team in the United States. The new home clubhouse will stretch from the current area behind the dugout, all the way to the left field corner and will include an enormous weight training and conditioning center, a medical department to treat injuries and two batting tunnels that players can use to prepare during games. There will also be a new media center to conduct pre and post game interviews and a players lounge area. All of these are standard in every other stadium, but due to space restrictions are not possible in the current Wrigley Field.
Fans will notice new concession stands, a wider concourse making entering and exiting the stadium much easier than it currently is. There will also be several restaurants and clubs for an upgraded entertainment experience.
In addition, restrooms will increase by 45 percent and concession stands will expand tremendously, offering more food options than are currently available due to the current lack of kitchen facilities at Wrigley Field. All current skyboxes will be enlarged and completely remodeled and there will be a plaza area for pre and post game festivals as well as other events on non game days.
In addition, a 6,000 square foot video board is planned for left-center field and a party deck is in the plans for the left field corner. Signage is expected to significantly increase with one new sign planned for the right field bleachers. Add in signage that is expected to ring the facade of the upper deck overhang and the combination of amenities, the signage and video board should provide for a major stream of revenue that the Cubs do not currently enjoy, but is something that every other team in baseball has.
The organization believes that all of the proposed changes will enhance the gameday experience for fans, preserve Wrigley Field for the next generation and will be a major asset to the Lakeview community through new jobs and more tax revenue, plus as a draw for area business to increase their revenues.
However, the plan could meet resistance from the neighboring community as well as the rooftop owners who believe they are entitled to an unimpeded view of the park through a 20-year partnership agreement they signed with the Cubs in 2004. The rooftop owners currently pay the Cubs 17 percent of their gross revenues and sources tell me that since signing the deal nearly 10 years ago, the rooftops have paid the Cubs in excess of $40 million.
A first look at the video board appears to show minimal impact on the rooftops with only a building in left-center field that doesn't have any rooftop seating on it directly affected. However, that building has a rooftop sign for United Airlines on it with both the building's owner and the Cubs enjoying the revenue in a partnership agreement. It would appear that those dollars will go away or be dramatically reduced because of the video board. Only one other sign which is similar to the Toyota sign that is currently in left field is shown in the team's plans and it is in right field along the back wall of the bleachers.
The plan also calls for moving the back wall of the bleachers eight feet to give the rooftops a better sight line over any planned or future signage. However, it is unknown if the owners of the rooftop businesses are in agreement with the proposed renovations.
In addition, an office building along Waveland Avenue at the corner of Clark and Waveland is expected to house Cubs employees and stadium and concession personnel. Major underground work is proposed to increase the available space for offices, concession kitchens and storage which should alleviate a space crunch in the ballpark.
Finally, the hotel complex which the Cubs are proposing to build at the current site of the McDonald's restaurant is expected to be seven stories high and will include a new McDonald's, a health club and parking. The original idea for the Cubs to build a multi-story parking garage on nearby team owned land is not a part of the current plan.
According to Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney, the team is committed to making sure the entire project fits with the character of Wrigley Field.
"The Cubs are committed to making sure that we restore the park to what it looked like originally. From the wrought iron to the terra cotta we want to bring all of that back in a modern way that fits with the feel of the stadium. We also want the office building and the hotel complex to fit in with the ballpark so that everything looks like it goes together," Kenney said.
The current site of the Captain Morgan Club near the corner of Addison and Sheffield will be replaced by a new two story permanent building that will house a restaurant, team store and facilities to expand the visitor's clubhouse which is by far the smallest locker room in professional sports. A party deck is also in the plans for the roof of that proposed building.
A walkway over Clark Street would connect the hotel and office building. Signage is planned on the facade of the the hotel, office building and throughout the plaza "to accommodate significant advertising and sponsorship opportunities," according to a recent statement from the Ricketts family and the Cubs.
The office and plaza would be built on the so-called triangle property but the long speculated "triangle building is not a part of the proposal. The plaza would have video boards to feature ads, game broadcasts and movies. In addition, it is expected that a broadcast area will be available for live television and radio shows before and after Cubs games.
While the plans provide for dramatic changes to the stadium and the area surrounding the iconic ballpark, there is no guarantee that the Wrigleyville community will be on board with the proposal.
Alderman Thomas Tunney has not yet given his blessing and neither have the rooftop owners who continue to maintain that no part of the plan that affects their views is permitted under their current contract with the Cubs.
Kenney, while admitting that some views will be impacted, believes that the plan provides the Cubs with the changes they need to make while doing as much as the team can to lessen the impact on their rooftop partners.
"Our desire is to try to protect the views of our partners, who are paying us," Kenney said. "And we're trying to locate both signs in places that don't strategically impact them."
Ricketts will reveal the entire plan at Wednesday's speech and he will also be available for interviews with the media.
He will join me on Sports Talk Live Wednesday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.