Sunday, April 05, 2015

Heavy Metal (construction) vs. the Cubs - new Wrigley Field, on the street, and on tonight's season opener on ESPN

It's like deja vu all over again.  But supersized.
click images for larger view
It was less than a decade ago that the Chicago Cubs were rebuilding the Wrigley Field bleachers, removing the original 1914 brick walls to add over 1,700 new seats, extending the structure out over the public sidewalk.
Child's play.  Now under it's new ownership, the Cubs are completing the transformation from a neighborhood ballpark to the cash machine of a modern franchise eating up the surrounding community.

image source: Wikipedia Commons
Back in 1890's, the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary had built their new campus on what was them the largely unsettled outskirts of the city, but the tranquility of the site was soon overtaken by the city's explosive growth.  After the trestled "L" was constructed right at their back door in 1900, their was no stopping the development.  The seminary picked up stakes and moved to Maywood, selling their land and buildings for the construction of the 14,000 seat Weeghman Park.  On opening day in 1914, the Seminary buildings could be seen just outside the stadium's walls.
In 1917, the Chicago Cubs made the park their own. For decades, the team was owned by chewing gum tycoon William J. Wrigley, Jr. and his heirs. The closing years of their reign was marked by a kind of lazy decrepitude that was the source of what has come to be seen as Wrigley's unique charm.  Teams were most often not very good, crowds often dipped into the low thousands, and residents living in the greystones across the street from the park would sometimes drag lawn chairs and beer up to the roof to take in the game.

This was the legacy up through 1981, when the Chicago Tribune bought both the Cubs and Wrigley field for $20.5 million.  Mostly the deal acquired a cheap source of lucrative programming for the Trib's broadcast properties.  The Trib tinkered - executing that 2005-6 renovation and expansion of the bleachers, adding lights to allow for the first night games.  Changes were conservative and incremental.
Outside Wrigley field, however, the future was already simmering right under the Trib's nose.  An astonishing mutant capitalism emerged, catering to fans willing to spend big bucks to emulate the rooftop experience the guys in bermuda shorts sitting on a lawn chair used to get for free.  The greystones became corporate "baseball clubs" which constructed their own slices of bleachers on the rooftops.  In 2004, the Tribune company actually entered into a 20 year revenue-sharing deal to allow the rooftop clubs to continue to poach on their attendance.

By then, however, things had changed dramatically.  The newspaper publishing business was no longer a license to print money, and Tribune Company's revenues and profits were in a free fall.  As journalism waned as an industry, professional sports teams went from the playthings of millionaires to the creator of billionaires.   In 2009, the club the Trib had paid little more than $20 million for less than 30 years before was sold to the Ricketts family for $845 million.  Last month, after the Ricketts sold a minority int6erest in the club for $175 million, Forbes Magazine placed the current value of the Chicago Cubs and their stadium at $1.8 billion.
Last year the Ricketts announced a $575 renovation and expansion plan for Wrigley Field.  A large part of that is taking control of a large part of the surrounding neighborhood.  After a major court victory last week, the Ricketts are in the process of destroying the views and running the rooftop clubs out of business. As part of agreements with the city, they'll be able to shut down adjacent streets on game days.  They've acquired major pieces of the property just to the west of Wrigley.  The nearest block, site of tall coal silos for much of the stadium's history, is currently under construction for a new office building and plaza.  On the other side of Clark street, a Ricketts-owned hotel is next. An 800 car garage is also on the boards.
The original Weegham Field was constructed in just two months.  The renovations, by VOA Architects, aren't so lucky.  A "harsh Chicago winter" has been blamed for the new bleachers not being ready for opening night (tonight, April 5th).  Right now, the site is a festival of steel and steelworkers.
Since the brick wall that Bill Veeck began planting with ivy over 70 years ago, isn't all there at the moment,  there's faux ivy imprinted on the screens for the construction fences.
The Cubs are saying the left-field bleachers will be finished on May 31st. (Even after the concrete is poured, it has to cure for a month.)  The right-field is scheduled to follow sometime in June.
There may be no seats for many season-ticket holders, but the Cubs at least have their priorities straight.   The 6,000 square-foot Jumbotron should be ready for its network debut for the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast beginning at 7:00 CDT tonight.
Cubs rendering of Jumbo-tron
42 feet high and 95 feet wide, it's as tall as a shoe-horned River North condo project, and a lot more capacious.  To power all the pixels, there looks to be enough wiring to connect a small city.
Right now, the construction crews at Wrigley are putting on quite a show.  Let's hope it doesn't prove more winning than the one on the field.
Clean Up, sculpture by Ted Sitting Crow Garner
Play Ball!

Read More:

Ragged Liberty or Polished Upscaling? Speculating on the Future of Wrigleyville's Mutant Urbanism.
Foul Ball Hotel: the In-Your-Face Mediocrity of The Wrigleyville Sheraton

 Four Buildings and a Funeral - Wrigley: The Architecture that Remains after a Great Company Dies