Chicago’s City Council was set Wednesday to give a final vote on a $500 million renovation of historic Wrigley Field that includes its first massive Jumbotron, improved facilities for the players in the bowels of the 99-year-old ballpark and a hotel across the street.
Under the plan, the Chicago Cubs would erect a 5,700-square-foot electronic Jumbotron in left field above the ivy-covered outfield walls that is roughly three times as large as the iconic manual scoreboard in center field, as well as another large advertising sign in right field.
The Cubs, who waited decades to install lights at Wrigley, have been pushing for renovations since the Ricketts family bought the team in 2009. After an effort to get public help for the project failed, the Cubs said the team would fund the entire renovation – but it needed the signs and the advertising revenue they would generate to help pay for it.
The City Council’s vote comes a day after the council’s zoning committee signed off on the deal with the blessing of the alderman whose ward includes the ballpark. Alderman Tom Tunney’s support was considered crucial to the project that Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants approved. Tunney initially said the signs would harm the quality of life in the neighborhood around Wrigley, but he signed off on the deal after winning concessions from the Cubs. Among them was an agreement not to erect any outfield signs in addition to the Jumbotron and right field sign and to indefinitely postpone a proposed bridge over the adjoining Clark Street.
Still looming is whether the Jumbotron and right field sign will disrupt the views of the rooftops that surround two sides of the ballpark. The owners of the rooftops, who have a contract with the Cubs to share a chunk of their revenue with the team, have said repeatedly that they might file suit if the Cubs put up anything that cuts into their views.
The signs have easily been the most contentious part of the project because erecting them could trigger lawsuits from the rooftop owners and change the look of the ballpark that has become beloved as a link to baseball’s history.
During public hearings, many fans told city officials that it was time for the ballpark to change. They said if the team was to continue to attract fans, particularly younger ones, it had to include the Jumbotron and other amenities that are common in every other Major League Baseball stadium. The back-and-forth became so heated that at one point, the team’s chairman, Tom Ricketts, floated the idea of moving the team to another location where it could get the amenities it needs to compete with other teams.