Wrigley Field joins the 20th Century

Jonathan Daniel

After years without standard amenities like an electronic video board and available parking, the Cubs plan to change all of that. Are changes to such a historic ballpark a good idea?

One of the age-old questions for business owners and architects is when “historic” just becomes “old”. It appears that the ownership of the Chicago Cubs is leaning towards the latter with their home field that was built nearly a century ago in 1914. Sunday night the city of Chicago and its beloved losers announced an agreement that will give Wrigley Field a $500 million upgrade, including an electronic video board for the first time ever. The deal also calls for them to host an additional 10-12 night games a year.

From the AP article, the renovations are part of owner Tom Ricketts’ plans to “boost business and make baseballs’ most infamous losers competitive again.” Will renovations to the field actually do either? I certainly think that Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs’ farm system will have more to do with turning around the Cubs’ fortune on the field, and according to Forbes, Chicago ranked fourth in 2012 with $274 million in revenue and first in net operating income at $32.1 million. It may be more accurate to say that the improvements are more about sustaining a level of success than they are actually boosting business.

Interestingly enough, the upgrades include no tax-payer funding. Without the funding the Rickets family originally expected, they are seeking new revenue streams, including a new hotel and plaza, to fund the project. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorses the plans:

"This framework allows the Cubs to restore the Friendly Confines (of Wrigley) and pursue their economic goals, while respecting the rights and quality of life of its neighbors,"

“Neighbors” refers to the local businesses around the ballpark, many that offer rooftop views of Cubs games under an agreement that dates back years. These business owners have said they will be out of business if the new video board obstructs their views of the games. To this point, though, the Cubs have said they will work directly with the city on placement to minimize the impact on local businesses.

Is this the right decision for the Cubs? When I read the headline, I was against the changes. Wrigley is one of the pure baseball atmospheres left in the game, and I loved my only experience there in 2007. Reading further, it’s hard not sympathize with an ownership group that is paying $15 million a year for routine maintenance to a ballpark. I think pure baseball fans attend games at Wrigley because of the history and the baseball, but the truth is many fans do enjoy things like comfortable seats, convenient parking, and the entertainment provided by an actual video board. Heck, I enjoy those things too even if it’s not the reason I attend in the first place. Around these parts most of us can agree that baseball is the best game on the planet, and it should be made accessible to as many patrons as possible. Hopefully the Cubs don’t completely eliminate the history and quirks that make Wrigley the destination spot it is, but at least for now I endorse the much needed changes to the “Friendly Confines”.

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