It is 105 years and counting since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series and few expect the drought to end this season.
At least their longtime home appears headed for a major upgrade: The team and the city appear to be close to announcing a long-awaited $500 million renovation project for Wrigley Field.
”I think it’s going in the right direction,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said Monday before the first game of the season at the 99-year-old neighborhood ballpark. ”I think we’ve worked through a lot of issues over the weekend. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, whose district includes Wrigley Field, were sitting in the front row next to the Cubs’ dugout for a 7-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in the home opener. The duo would be a prominent part of any agreement, and Ricketts came down to talk to them early in the game.
The Cubs have desperately wanted to update Wrigley for a while, saying it spends as much as $15 million a year just to keep up with the repairs. Wrigley is the second oldest in the major leagues behind only Boston’s Fenway Park.
The Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009 for $845 million and has made updating Wrigley a priority.
”I think we’re moving forward,” Tom Ricketts said. ”We’re committed to getting something done with the city. The mayor’s been terrific. The alderman’s been very productive. Hopefully this is the beginning of the process to get something done. Just got to keep working through.”
The deal was expected to be completed by Monday, but Ricketts declined to provide another timeframe for a finished agreement. The Ricketts family had set a deadline of April 1, but that one came and went and the sides kept talking.
”We’re just working through the process,” Ricketts said. ”There’s going to public hearings that have to go forward. We just have to start making sure that we check all the boxes that one needs to get a major development done in Chicago.”
The plan is expected to include approximately $300 million in renovations to Wrigley, more night games and a $200 million hotel. Ricketts said most of the proposed changes to the ballpark are ”non-revenue generating.”
”I think our highest priority, honestly, is a clubhouse. … It’s way below standard,” he said. ”And one of the things that I’ve said since we got here, if we want to have a first-class organization we can’t have second-rate facilities.”
The plan is also expected to include a video scoreboard inside the park in left field and another sign in right field. The size of the scoreboard had been an issue, since some owners of nearby buildings have a contract with the team governing their rooftop views of the games and have threatened to sue if the renovation does anything to hurt their business.
”It’s a really awkward contract,” Ricketts said. ”I don’t know if anyone’s ever looked at it. But I think we’ll be OK there.”
Ricketts has said he’d be willing to pay for the entire project if the city would agree to additional night games and the signs. The Cubs also are expected to build a 300-space parking garage on the site of a gravel lot at a nearby cemetery; neighbors have long complained about a lack of parking on game days.
”Honestly, we haven’t had public hearings on that and so I’m not sure exactly what all the objections are,” Ricketts said. ”But we’re sensitive to things that affect the neighbors. We want to be responsive to issues that the neighbors have. I think we have some ideas on parking that will work, but once again, we’re just working through it.”