Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Make way for the old and the new

With a sputtering economy and local governments mired in financial crisis, the Chicago Cubs can't afford to renovate Wrigley Field like they want to — or like they really need to. It's simply not a good time for the Ricketts ownership to be asking the city of Chicago, or heaven forbid the state of Illinois, for assistance with bonds and whatnot.

So the Cubs are doing a little bit here and there to nudge Wrigley into the 21st century as she approaches her 100th birthday in 2014. During the team's fan convention over the weekend, the Cubs announced they would be converting seating in right field into a premium patio area that will resemble neighborhood rooftops. They're also putting in a 75-foot long LED scoreboard just above the ivy, though not one big enough for video.

Newfangled stuff in Wrigley Field? Say it ain't so!In all honesty, it needs to be so, to maximize revenue streams (i.e., make as much money as possible.) The team rebuilt the iconic bleachers before the 2006 season, and this time they're removing a section of seats near the right-field foul pole. So, the new patio won't be for the common folk. Cubs team president Crane Kenney used the word "client" when describing who he expects to use the new section, which will hold 150 fans.

"[It will be] a place where you can bring clients, move around in the space and not just be fixed," Kenney said. "If I'm in seat [No. 1] and my clients are in seats two through eight, I don't get to talk to the person in seat [No. 8]. It's a chance to circulate.

"What we're finding both for our suites as well as other parts of the ballpark is that people want to be able to circulate — you see it on the rooftops."

Back in the 1980s, when Wrigley's neighbors started transforming the rooftop experience into something beyond lawn chairs, a Smoky Joe grill and a cooler full of Budweiser, the Cubs should have purchased some — if not all — of the buildings along Waveland and Sheffield avenues. That way, they could have been a part of growing an experience outside of the ballpark that was actually cooler than what was going on inside much of the time.

Instead, team ownership just let Wrigley get older while the neighborhood gentrified and became some of the hottest property in Chicago. Nowadays, the Cubs are playing catch-up. Just like Theo Epstein is playing catch-up with the team's computer system, its minor leagues and its major league roster. The Cubs makeover really is top to bottom.

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