One of America’s sports cathedrals is officially inching closer to the Jumbotron era.
Chicago’s landmarks commission unanimously approved a plan July 10 for a multimillion-dollar upgrade to Wrigley Field, home of baseball's Chicago Cubs, clearing the way for seven advertising signs that includes a video screen hovering over its iconic ivy-covered outfield walls. The plan has raised the ire of Wrigleyville’s residents and could trigger a lawsuit from owners of the ballpark’s surrounding rooftop clubs and restaurants who rely on their unobstructed view inside the stadium.
The $575 million upgrade has been in limbo for months after the Cubs failed to reach a deal with rooftop owners who argue that additional signage in the outfield will block their views and hurt their business.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks, which must approve any changes to Wrigley after the ballpark was deemed a city landmark in 2004, initially signed off on a $500 million renovation last year, which included just two new outfield signs and prompted the threat of a lawsuit from surrounding rooftop owners. But as talks broke down between the team and rooftop owners, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts unveiled a new proposal that included seven signs, more lights and larger clubhouses, essentially abandoning negotiations and all but inviting legal action from rooftop owners.
The team took the new proposal to the commission after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked the Cubs to reduce the size of the outfield advertising and pledge to continue negotiating with rooftop owners, who have a revenue-sharing agreement with the team that expires at the end of 2023.
The Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, argues that additional advertising is necessary to fund major renovations to the ballpark that could ultimately raise revenues and help the team get to its first World Series in more than a century.
But the changes have been challenged not only by surrounding rooftop owners, who fear the signs will hurt business, but also by those who view The Friendly Confines -- with its hand-turned scoreboard, ivy-covered outfield and neighborhood feel -- with nostalgia and bristle at any changes to one of America’s most beloved stadiums, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
While the landmarks commission approved the renovation, the city council still has to OK it – and the rooftop owners still may opt to sue the team after all.
But if the renovations finally move forward, the additional revenue could provide a boost for the city’s beloved Cubbies, who haven’t reached the playoffs since 2008 and haven’t won a World Series since 1908. They’re currently 39-52 and in last place in the National League Central Division.