Wrigley renovations in limbo

When the Ricketts family announced details in January of its plan to pay for Wrigley Field renovations, the outlook they unveiled for the creaky stadium was as sunny as Anthony Rizzo’s long-term future in the middle of the batting order: A new home clubhouse, renovated bathrooms, new ballpark restaurants and outfield ads to raise money.

Now the offseason looms with Rizzo’s batting average hovering around .230 amid questions about his status as a key part of the team’s rebuilding plan. And summerlong political fisticuffs over the ballpark repairs have left the team facing a different timeline than it projected at the Cubs Convention.

The team had hoped to complete the ballpark renovation project over five offseasons, but that was based on being able to begin working aggressively shortly after the 2013 season ended. That will not be the case. The Cubs have yet to apply for any of the city permits that would be required for the ballpark renovation work, team spokesman Julian Green said Friday.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts repeatedly asserted last spring that the city needed to sign off on the rehab plans for the historic park by Opening Day, saying he needed to start ordering building materials and lining up contractors. Instead, back-room wrangling with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney over the intricacies of the $500 million deal dragged into July before the City Council approved the plan.

Ricketts remains leery about building the left field video scoreboard and large right field advertising sign that are key sources of ad money because owners of rooftop buildings overlooking the park haven’t guaranteed they won’t sue if the boards block their views.

Aldermen also approved a “master sign program” outlining the team’s plans for as much as 45,000 square feet of advertisements on the ballpark’s interior and exterior, roughly double what’s there now.

If the impasse with the rooftop owners gets cleared up, the team could move quickly before next season to put up a planned 650-square-foot Budweiser ad in right field. The 5,700-square-foot Jumbotron-like video board slated for left field will require considerably more time to design and build, according to a source with knowledge of the construction timeline.

Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, said there’s plenty of work the Cubs could be doing now.

“The rooftop owners support the renovation of Wrigley Field and want the Cubs to succeed,” McLaughlin said in an email. “There is nothing stopping the owners of one of the most valuable teams in baseball from fixing the dugouts, the bathrooms or the multitude of improvements that are long overdue. Let’s be clear — those aspects of renovation have nothing to do with the issue between the Cubs and rooftops. For a team that set deadlines, their silence has been deafening when it comes to their renovation plans.”

An idea for a deck over Sheffield Avenue was also floated as a way to move back the right field sign and preserve the views from the rooftops east of the park. But sources said there has been little serious discussion of that proposal since aldermen approved the larger Wrigley Field package.

The team also is concerned about a provision in a new night game ordinance aldermen passed that allows the Cubs to add as many as 16 night games per season but gives the city say over the rescheduling of rainouts. The night game issue is among several smaller “punch list items” the team hopes to change, a team source said.

 These delays make the new home clubhouse all but an impossibility before Opening Day 2014, the source said. The team is eager to get done whatever it can during the winter months, but that will likely consist mostly of structural improvements and smaller repairs and upgrades less visible than the big-ticket renovations, the source said.
By John Byrne, Chicago Tribune reporter
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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